With the grand jury investigation of Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard’s ethics violations dragging into its eighth month, many are wondering what’s taking state Attorney General Alan Wilson so long to issue an indictment. It seems that now we know why.
According to a high-level State House official, Wilson and prominent South Carolina political consulting firm Richard Quinn & Associates are coordinating the timing of Ard’s indictment to coincide with the filing period for State House elections this fall. Multiple sources tell Palmetto Public Record that state Sen. John Courson (R-Richland) intends to seek Ard’s office if the lieutenant governor steps down or is removed, and the timing of the Ard indictment would help Quinn control who runs for Courson’s open seat.
The filing period for fall elections lasts from March 16 through March 31. Sources tell Palmetto Public Record that the Ard indictment will be issued within the next 30 days, and could come as early as Thursday. Political blogger Will Folks reported on Tuesday that Ard can expect the indictment within the next two weeks, which lends further credence to the timeline uncovered by Palmetto Public Record. But if Courson does vacate his seat, the timing could trigger a special election and throw the general election into turmoil — giving Quinn & Associates ample opportunity to step in.
Courson and Wilson are both longtime political allies of the Quinns, and its easy to see how inside information on the Ard case could be shared among them. “[State Rep.] Rick Quinn is one of Alan’s best buds,” said the State House official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the case.
Sources tell Palmetto Public Record the political calculus is also being facilitated by a high-powered Columbia attorney with close ties to the State House, who denied any involvement when contacted by phone Wednesday evening. Neither Wilson nor Quinn have responded to requests for comment.
Wilson’s office began investigating Ard’s finances in July 2011 after the lieutenant governor paid $48,400 in ethics fines for misusing campaign cash. Reports showed that Ard spent thousands of campaign dollars after his election on things like an $800 dress at a women’s boutique, a $275 hotel room for the SEC Championship, and $3,000 in computer equipment at Best Buy. State law bars the use of campaign cash for personal expenses.
When asked about his illicit spending by Free Times reporter Corey Hutchins, Ard responded, “I’ve got a vast amount of my personal wealth tied up in this campaign, and I’m just trying to recoup as much of that as I can.”
However, reports indicate that Wilson’s investigation focused on allegations that are much more serious — namely that Ard gave himself thousands in campaign contributions, but reported the donations under other people’s names to pad his own donor list. Ard was a no-name county councilman and party chair before announcing his 2010 campaign, and critics speculate that such an illegal move could have given the impression that Ard enjoyed wider support than he actually had in order to beat attorney Bill Connor in the Republican primary.
But unlike the previous ethics violations, these new charges could mean the lieutenant governor faces criminal prosecution — if Wilson ever gets around to indicting him, that is. “The evidence against Ken Ard is so clear-cut, it’s inexcusable for Wilson to be dragging his feet for so long unless he’s playing politics,” Democratic Senate Caucus Director Phil Bailey commented. “A monkey with a typewriter could’ve gotten an indictment sooner than this.”
According to Folks, who sources tell Palmetto Public Record is being fed information by someone in the Attorney General’s office itself, Ard may be negotiating a plea bargain for the impending charges. So mark your calendar now — if such a plea bargain or indictment is announced as soon as sources tell us it will be, we now know why.