A confidential state grand jury probe into possible illegal campaign activities by Lt. Gov. Ken Ard is droning into its seventh month, and no one is saying anything about when or if the grand jury might act.
“State law prohibits us from saying anything about an ongoing state grand jury investigation,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson spokesman Mark Plowden.
But that hasn’t stopped others from discussing the case.
“You would think in fairness to the lieutenant governor, and in fairness to the people of South Carolina, the grand jury would bring this matter to a point and make a decision,” said 35-year state Senate veteran Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon. “I don’t know why the issues that were deemed to have been inquired into would have taken this long.”
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Ard, a Florence Republican, is not commenting on the situation and continues to be active in his $46,545-a-year job in which the main duty is to preside over the 46-member state Senate.
“I wouldn’t speculate,” Ard, 48, told a reporter Wednesday just after the Senate recessed for lunch, when asked if he had anything to say.
Last July, Wilson – like Ard, a Republican – announced he would ask the state grand jury to investigate allegations of illegal use of campaign money by Ard in his 2010 successful bid for the lieutenant governor’s post.
It was an historic announcement: Ard is the first sitting state constitutional officer investigated by the state grand jury. The lieutenant governor is generally considered the No. 2-ranking state official, after the governor.
Ard’s use of campaign contributions in 2010 were the focus of a State Ethics Commission investigation.
That investigation found Ard spent thousands of dollars of campaign money on improper items, including women’s clothes, a flat-screen television, two iPads and family vacations to Washington and Atlanta. What’s more — and what ethics commissioners said they found most troubling — was that he misled investigators on the nature of some of the expenditures.
The commission fined Ard $48,000 and assessed him $12,500 for the cost of its investigation. It was the second-largest fine ever assessed by the Ethics Commission, after the $74,000 fine levied against former Gov. Mark Sanford for his misuse of state aircraft and campaign money. Ard has paid the fine and costs.
Longtime state politics observer John Crangle of Common Cause said his watchdog group is concerned the grand jury has not yet acted.
The issues involved are serious but not that difficult, and Wilson should be moving more quickly than he has, Crangle said.
The most serious potential issues in Ard’s misuse of campaign funds involve possible money-laundering, mail fraud, breach of trust and tax evasion, Crangle said.
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said: “I’m not saying the lieutenant governor did anything bad, but dragging the investigation out is not fair to him or the people of South Carolina.”
Harpootlian said he had 12 years as a prosecutor and this case shouldn’t be taking this long. “The statewide grand jury is a great tool to resolve cases quickly and efficiently, but I don’t know what process could take seven months. There are a limited number of witnesses, and limited number of pieces of evidence. Ard has either done something wrong, or he hasn’t. This shouldn’t take seven months.”
Land said the ongoing grand jury investigation doesn’t seem to have impaired Ard’s ability to be lieutenant governor.
“Every member of the Senate treats him with the utmost courtesy, and he’s very talkative, very friendly, very proficient in running the Senate – an outgoing person, and we enjoy having him,” Land said.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, wasn’t worried about the lack of information. “Legislators shouldn’t know what’s going on inside a statewide grand jury,” he said. “Those things are guarded by state law.”
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, said, “I haven’t heard a word.”
“(Ard) seems to be doing a good job,” said Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg. “But it needs some closure, either way, I guess.”