Friday, August 23, 2013

Darr plans to call personal expenses loan repayments to square ethics questions

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 4:28 PM

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More today about the questions on Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's spending of campaign funds as he continued to raise money to pay off a debt from his 2010 campaign:

Chase Dugger of Impact Management, which is working on the campaign, said:

We are currently going through a process of amending campaign and debt reports at which point all non-fundraising expenses will be recategorized as reductions in loans owed to the Lt. Governor.

This is a pretty slick maneuver. Will the Ethics Commission buy it? It shouldn't. Darr later elaborated:


“Today I self-reported several items to the Arkansas Ethics Commission regarding campaign and debt filings following my 2010 election. While my debt retirement forms are still being amended, I believe making the Commission and the public aware of our current findings is the right thing to do. As this was my first race for public office, the ins and outs of campaign finance reporting were new to both me and my campaign staff. As such, there were some mistakes made, and I am working hard to correct each and every one of them. I am committed to reporting all errors found during this review and will make any necessary corrections. While it’s important to note that I had no malice intent, I should have paid better attention to detail throughout this process. I believe it’s important to own up to mistakes, and I will accept any resulting penalty levied by the Ethics Commission.”

Here's Darr's report of himself to Ethics Commission.

As I wrote yesterday, Darr finished his 2010 campaign with $115,766 in personal loans to the campaign. Since then, he's spent another $127,000 and reduced the debt by $97,000, leaving about $18,000 on the loan. Of the $30,000 that didn't go to loan repayment, some went to consultants. But a lot of it went for personal expenses of Mark Darr. If he recasts those payments now as paydowns of money he's owed on loans, isn't he all square?

No. Because he was living out of the campaign fund and continuing to raise money. If Blue Hog Report hadn't blown the whistle, he'd have had his cake (loan repayment) and eaten it, too, through meals, gas, hotels, clothes and other personal expenses. As a congressional candidate, he could have raised plenty to pay off his loan and pay himself.

Candidates shouldn't be able to blithely and inaccurately characterize personal expenditures as fund-raising, then, when caught, apologize and ethics regulators say all is forgiven.

Some other points:

* DOUBLE TICKETING: Blue Hog has also raised questions about personal expenses from Darr's office expense account. I got answers to some specifics. Those two tickets on the same day — at $422 each to Washington. One was charged to the campaign one to taxpayers. Office and campaign spokesman indicate taxpayers paid for a ticket for Darr to attend a meeting of lieutenant governors. The campaign-paid ticket flew Darr's wife up.

* DARR GOES TO TEXAS: That hotel room, food and supplies charged to taxpayers in Austin, Texas? The public purpose? His office said Darr "met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss various issues."

* MULTIPLE CHARGES TO TAXPAYERS FOR HOTEL ROOMS IN ARKANSAS: Said his office about hotel charges in Little Rock, Bryant and Springdale: 

The Lieutenant Governor, or staff traveling with him, on official business throughout the state may need to stay in a hotel room.

But now let's get to the really important stuff — the Razorback tickets. Darr spent $1,500 in campaign money — and called it "fund-raising" to buy four season tickets to Hog games in Fayetteville and Little Rock in 2011. Details, please, I was asked.

I got answers today from Kevin Trainor, top spokesman in the UA Athletic Department. He said:

Where were Darr's season tickets?

Fayetteville
Section 102, Row 20, Seats 13-16

Little Rock
Section 23, Row 4, Seats 15-16
Section 22, Row 18, Seats 9-10

Did he pay the required scholarship amount for those seats?

A donation to the Razorback Foundation was not required for the tickets. Tickets were purchased at full price.

These are seats that are available to all at the price Darr paid without making a contribution to Foundation?

No, thanks for clarifying. Some groups are not subject to the donation requirement. For instance, faculty/staff do not pay the donation for tickets. Traditionally, constitutional officers, legislators and the Higher Education Coordinating Board are not required to pay the donation component if they choose to order tickets at full price.

I don't yet know what contribution otherwise would have been required for these seats. You can see from the charts that Darr is outside the end zone, but not by much. I trust somebody will call if they think something doesn't fit in the explanation I was given. Maybe former Razorback walk-on Bruce Westerman, the Fountain Lake state representative who's in the Republican primary with Darr for the 4th District congressional seat.

UPDATE: The Razorback Foundation website helpfully provides some guidance. A Super Hog contribution of $3,000 entitles a first-time purchaser to up to eight priority seats in section 102 in Fayetteville. A $1,000 Tush Hog contribution will get you four seats in Section 23 at War Memorial. At current prices, but they were the same in 2011. Less is required per seat for pre-existing season ticket holders.

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