Cackalackey Chaos

My native state of South Carolina is not one unfamiliar with political scandals, to be sure. But today’s resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (apparently as part of a plea agreement subsequent to a criminal investigation) was still something of a bombshell.

Ard (a Republican who is elected separately from the governor under SC’s system) was nailed for a large pattern of financial irregularities and reporting violations. But the backstory is pretty interesting. I normally avoid quoting from or linking to Will Folks, the bad-boy Palmetto State blogger most notorious for claiming an extramarital affair with his former boss (and now Gov.) Nikki Haley, if only because the man is a relentless self-promoter of (sometimes) dubious credibility. But he’s been all over this story for a good while, and seems to know the players very well:

S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard’s resignation can be traced to a mountain cabin just across the South Carolina state line …

There, near Cedar Mountain, N.C., three prominent Palmetto democratic operatives – Phil Bailey, Tyler Jones and Lachlan McIntosh – met in January to chart a new course for an ailing party. It was a grim time for South Carolina Democrats, with South Carolina Republicans pulling off a clean sweep of the state’s nine constitutional offices (and picking up a handful of seats in the S.C. House of Representatives).

“We were so frustrated with the fact that all these Republicans won because they had a ‘R’ behind their name,” Jones says. “Our objective was to show people that’s a stupid way to vote.”

“We’re gonna set a new tone with these guys,” Bailey explains….

A few weeks later, McIntosh was pouring through filing information on the S.C. State Election Commission (SCSEC) website when he noticed a pattern of irregular expenses on Ard’s campaign finance disclosure forms.

“When I saw it, I knew exactly what was happening,” McIntosh says. “He had ethics problems before that (which) the press never wrote about, but this stuff was clearly illegal….”

McIntosh called Bailey and Jones with his findings, getting second opinions as well as soliciting their assistance in bringing the story to the attention of the state’s mainstream press.

What response did they get from the media? Nothing … not a peep.

To make a long murky saga short, the operatives (who had already contacted the authorities) got the information into the hands of “alternative journalist” Corey Hutchins of the Columbia Free Times, who broke the story on Jan. 31.

Within days, Ard was slapped with over 100 violations and later assessed more than $60,000 worth of ethics fines, although an accompanying report published by the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) revealed a damning pattern of deception that was much more troubling than the original allegations.

According to the ethics report, 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 his wife Tammy an inaugural gown as an excuse for some of the personal clothing expenses.

In addition to these allegations Ard has also been accused of running a “cash for contributions” scam in which money was given to donors in exchange for them agreeing to cut a check to his campaign.

In light of all these allegations, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson referred Ard’s case to the statewide grand jury last July … which eventually resulted in Ard’s decision to resign his office as part of a plea agreement.

So it’s a story of elected-official arrogance, partisanship, and MSM negligence, it appears. In South Carolina, they don’t have small scandals; they live large.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.