Blue Hog Report continues
plowing Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's
campaign and official expense records and he's turned up more gems than a fresh plowing of the Crater of Diamonds State Park.
Blue Hog makes a circumstantial case that Darr had charged personal expenses to his state credit card, then he apparently realized this needed to be corrected — at least some of the cases. Lodging and restaurant expenses also raise questions. Blue Hog's Matt Campbell caught, too, a charge to both his campaign account and his state credit card for plane tickets of identical amounts ($422) on the same day. (Maybe he bought two seats for comfort.) He also used PAC money to reimburse the state for a hotel room in Little Rock he'd charged to the state (what's this with charging rooms in Bryant and Little Rock and even near his Springdale home?), but there's no report of the PAC contribution to his campaign.
Blue Hog argues that the persistent pattern of charges — which suggest regular charges for gas (and more) on commutes back to his Northwest Arkansas home — suggests willful, not sloppy behavior. Sloppy can violate the law, too, he notes.
Apologists have tried to excuse Darr for merely taking money from himself, if indeed he's intentionally directed campaign money to personal uses. The argument is that he loaned a significant sum to the campaign. The law provides no such defense. But it is also worthless in practice. Darr has all but paid the loan back with contributions from a rich assortment of some of the state's worst special interests. If he's converted their money to his personal use, he's done no different than Paul Bookout. The only difference would be in how he chose to spend it — fillups and filet mignon versus a five-iron.
Interesting, too, was Blue Hog's finding that Darr charged taxpayers for a hotel room, steak dinner and "supplies" from Prime Mart in Austin on visit to see Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
In his final campaign report for 2010, 30 days after the election, Darr reported that he'd spent $277,000 and still owed $115,766 on loans to the campaign.
In July 2013, Darr reported that his campaign had spent $404,522 and owed only about $18,000 on the loan.
It's fairly simple arithmetic. Since his final campaign report, Darr has spent about $127,000, with about $97,000 going to pay back loans. That other $30,000? There's the rub. Now with the additional noogie of his unusual charges (to taxpayers) on his state credit card.
Blue Hog has implanted a fine pair of bodacious inquires — campaign and public office — for the lieutenant governor and Republican congressional candidate. So far, he's been unavailable. Perhaps ethics investigators will have more luck getting him to talk when the time arrives.
UPDATE: Darr is taking the Jeremy Huchinson route. He's apparently released a prepared statmen
t — not to us — in which he acknowledges the discovery of "errors" on his reporting and that he's working with the Ethics Commission to correct them.
I hope the Ethics Commission doesn't fall for this crap again. It let Jeremy Hutchinson self-report some campaign money directed to his girlfriend without any indication that his spending got the full and searching investigation it deserved. Darr shouldn't get away with this. Somebody should file a complaint. The Commission should use its subpoena power. It shouldn't "work with Mark Darr" to correct errors, it should seek to find any and all "errors" and find if they were sins of omission, commission or what. I despair of getting this out of an Ethics Commission that clearly worked collegially also with John Burris to paper over his use of campaign money for dozens of campaign contributions to other candidates, although the rules specifically prohibit the practice.
The scandal is more than Bookout, Darr, Hutchinson and Burris. It's a system with no real accountability, where a tiny agency that depends on the legislature for funding simply isn't willing to get tough with the people who pay them.
Happily, if Darr misspent tax money on bogus expenses, that's not a matter for the Ethics Commission, but a prosecutor. There'll be no sitdowns with Mark Darr to "correct errors" on that. Said Darr's statement, which I've confirmed with his consulting firm:
It has come to my attention that I have made some errors on my debt reporting forms. I am going through those now and working with the Ethics Commission to ensure everything is done properly and all debt relief is accounted for. I hope to have any issue we find resolved shortly.
'Debt relief.' Pull out the violin. The Republicans are great at messaging. This shaggy dog won't hunt. Deadbeat relief is more like it. Buying Razorback football season tickets is "debt relief"?
And speaking of those four season tickets? Where were they? Were they in seats that require an additional donation to the secretive Razorback Foundation? Or did Darr get a public official brother-in-law deal? Where's the transparency that Foundation Director Sean Rochelle has promised in Hogland? Transparency includes his non-response to my questions, I might add.