Mark Sanford just cheated on his wife. Ken Ard cheated on South Carolina.
Sanford, the former governor, was a national sensation for his personal breach. Much less attention will be paid to Ard, former lieutenant governor, who resigned just in time to avoid prison last Friday on charges he blatantly abused his campaign funds and the public trust.
Ard had already been fined $48,000 last July for misusing his campaign account for his personal gain, which is patently illegal. On Friday, after his plea that followed an indictment by a grand jury on seven counts of violating the state’s ethics act, a judge sentenced Ard to five years on probation, a $5,000 fine and 300 hours of community service.
If sentences could be enhanced for aggravated brazenness, he would’ve gotten hard time instead of Ard time. One of the highest-elected officials in the state, Ard spent campaign funds, notes the Los Angeles Times, on such things as “fuel, meals, hotel rooms, a PlayStation 3, women’s clothing for his wife, and tickets to the SEC football championship game in Atlanta.”
Not very long after being elected in November 2010, the newspaper writes, Ard took his wife and three children on a Christmas trip to Washington, D.C., charging it to his campaign account. He claimed he was meeting Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.
“When investigators called the senator’s office,” writes the Times, “they found that no such meeting had taken place. Graham, it turns out, was back in South Carolina for Christmas.”
Authorities also say Ard provided $75,000 to a group of people with instructions to donate it back to his campaign – to make it appear there was an outpouring of support for him when, as The Greenville News writes, “in reality this was essentially a self-funded campaign.”
According to The State newspaper in Columbia, “Ard’s five-man defense team said Ard had made unintentional ‘mistakes’ in handling his campaign finances.” Prosecutors rejected the notion they would prosecute a “mistake.”
That’s what happens when you have a five-man defense team. They tell you what you want to hear.
The truth, of course, is that Ard knew exactly what he was doing. He abused the public trust and slapped the face of anyone and everyone who contributed money to him in good faith.
Ard’s plea should act as a word of caution to any politician using his or her campaign fund for non-campaign fun.
It also, again, makes you wonder about the lieutenant governor job in South Carolina; an Ard predecessor had such a problem with the speed limit that an officer once drew a gun on him.
The state’s governor, it’s been said, has little more than the power of a game warden. While the lieutenant governor is president of the Senate and oversees the state office on aging, could not the position be better utilized?
And why shouldn’t the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket? We agree with our friends at The Greenville News that such an arrangement would actually allow for candidates to be “vetted more thoroughly” than voters have a chance to do in the often-obscure lieutenant governor race.
One way or another, South Carolina either needs to get better lieutenant governor candidates or just find them some work!