South Carolina elected officials are warily eying the ongoing legal drama surrounding S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (RINO-Pamplico) – a guy who most political observers believe is on the verge of being indicted by a statewide grand jury as a result of his numerous campaign finance violations (and the lies he told to cover them up).
What’s the number one question they’re asking?
It’s simple: If Ard goes down … “who’s next?”
After all, newly elected S.C. Ways and Means Chairman Brian White (RINO-Anderson) has recently been busted using campaign cash on personal expenses just like Ard did – yet “investigators” in the S.C. House of Representatives haven’t lifted a finger on that case.
Why not? Well, the chairman of the House ethics committee – S.C. Rep. Roland Smith (RINO-Aiken) – serves on White’s powerful budget committee. Clearly he’s not about to begin an investigation into a guy who controls whether or not state money is routed to his district.
Meanwhile, S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts (RINO-Lexington) was busted last year committed similarly-egregious campaign finance violations – but received a slap on the wrist from his buddies in the “Republican-controlled” South Carolina Senate.
You gotta love how our lawmakers have been given the authority to police themselves, don’t you?
These cases present an interesting dilemma, though … if Ard winds up getting indicted (and resigns or is removed from office as a result of his ethics scandal) will these other “Republicans” also be held accountable for their actions? And is concern over the Pandora’s Box that Ard’s case might open for politicians in both parties one reason that it is taking so long to unfold?
Theories about this case have been all over the map ever since S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson first referred Ard’s case to the grand jury two months ago. For those of you who haven’t been following the drama, it’s about as open and shut an ethics case as you’re ever going to see.
Ard used tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash on personal expenses – and then lied about it on his state ethics forms. While the State Ethics Commission settled the case for a $50,000 fine, the agency’s damning report on Ard’s activities prompted a criminal investigation.
Specifically, the report revealed that Ard’s illegal use of campaign funds for personal purposes was much more flagrant than originally suspected. Also, the report revealed that Ard repeatedly provided false information to investigators – fabricating an official “economic development” pretense for a family vacation to Washington, D.C. and concocting a story about buying Tammy an inaugural gown as an excuse for some of the personal clothing expenses.
But what happens if Ard is indicted?
For starters, he would be automatically suspended from office pending the outcome of the charges against him. In the event he were to resign from office or be convicted, S.C. Senate President Glenn McConnell would be in line to take his place – although it’s unclear at this point whether McConnell would temporarily relinquish his Senate leadership role in an effort to avoid assuming the politically impotent lieutenant governor’s office.
Clearly, the S.C. Senate isn’t ready to deal with that drama yet … which is another of the leading theories behind the delays in Ard’s case.
Obviously, Democrats are pressing hard for Ard to resign – but it doesn’t appear they are interested in pursuing the issue beyond him. In fact, a top Democratic strategist recently told FITS that the state’s minority party isn’t likely to press the issue beyond Ard.
Why not? Because they apparently have a “minority problem.”
“Our house isn’t in order either,” the strategist told FITS. “We have dozens of black lawmakers living out of their campaign accounts.”
Also let’s face it, White was elected to his powerful Ways and Means post with Democratic support – and Knotts has been a reliable vote for Democrats for years.
“We have no problem with (White and Knotts),” the strategist told us.
Of course they don’t …
Obviously, here at FITS we are more focused on taxpayer-funded abuses than we are on campaign finance abuses, but laws are laws. And it’s becoming obvious that politicians in South Carolina are habitually breaking them – including former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford and current Gov. Nikki Haley.
Will these offenses be swept under the rug? Or will the fallout from Ken Ard’s case result in a long-overdue “purge” of corrupt politicians? Based on the direction in which our state continues to move under the leadership of the current crop of elected officials, we certainly hope it’s the latter …