Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report has done some further digging
into Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's
official expense account, following a trail first suggested by his flawed campaign finance reports.
It's a mess. Darr has steadily billed taxpayers for trips between Little Rock and his home in Springdale and between Springdale and other points in the state.
Commuting expenses aren't supposed to be billed to taxpayers. Campbell writes.
Whether you chalk it up to ignorance or avarice, every person who takes reimbursements in excess of his actual expenses raises the dual problems of tax issues and violations of Amendment 70. For as bad as your standard legislative-reimbursement or Secretary-of-State-abusing-gas-card story is, however, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has somehow managed to create a perfect storm of mileage/gas abuses that are actually even more egregious (in terms of IRS/tax consequences, as well as ethics).
Campbell mined office records he received under the Freedom of Information Act. He requested them last week and got them today.
He detailed a number of mileage reimbursements, but took note of some unusual ones.
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012: $165.48, Springdale to Little Rock and back in order to get official photo taken for Senate composite. (Which, in addition to not being deductiable anyway, would not have cost taxpayers a single dime in reimbursement if Darr has already been in Little Rock as his job requires.)
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock to sing the National Anthem at the Capitol Lighting Ceremony. (See previous parenthetical.)
The travels continued into 2013 and included:
Wednesday, May 29, 2013: $56.28, Springdale to Fort Smith and back to “meet with Senator Holland,” because apparently phones don’t exist.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013: $165.48, Springdale to Little Rock and back, specifically for a press conference held at the State Capitol.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock to “[meet] staff in Little Rock to go to Hot Springs for meeting.”
Darr charged the state 42 cents a mile for this trips, typically 197 miles for each LR-Springdale journey.
Campbell promises further reviews this week of whether Darr was charging expenses to his office at the same time he was charging his campaign account for gas.
We already know Darr's campaign consultant terminated representation after a preliminary review of how Darr would answer questions about his campaign spending. Darr has dropped out of the congressional race in the aftermath of disclosure of campaign finance problems.
Campbell had already taken a look at some taxpayer-financed expenses and found, for example, that Darr had charged both his campaign and his office for a trip to Washington. His campaign said tentatively that one account might have paid for his wife and one for Darr, though questions remain about whether either legally could pay for a trip by Darr's wife. The campaign and his office, likewise, both shouldered some of the cost of a trip to Austin, Texas to visit Texas Gov. Rick Perry
, a trip the campaign said advanced his public agenda. Campbell's examination showed, too, that Darr had reimbursed the state for hundreds of dollars in charges to his office credit card.
There's some irony in Darr's use of a state expense account for personal travel. The Arkansas Republican Party filed a lawsuit
over state official use of state cars for personal reasons and a controversy over those cars led to an overhaul of state vehicle policies. As that lawsuit noted:
Amendment 7 states that the Constitutional Officers “shall not receive any other income from the State of Arkansas whether in the form of salaries or expenses.”
The lieutenant governor is a constitutional officer. But the amendment does allow reimbursement for documented expenses reasonably related to official duties.
Is it time yet, Sen. Bryan King,
for legislative audit to review these expenditures? Time yet, Doyle Webb
, for a special prosecutor to review the ethics and expense reports?
I've put in a request to Darr's office for a response. I've also asked the co-chairs of the legislature's Joint Audit Committee, Republican Rep. Kim Hammer
and Republican Sen. Bryan King
if they think an audit review of Darr's expenses is in order. They were instrumental in seeking an audit of Martha Shoffner's office which produced recommendations on changes in treasury procedures but no evidence of misspent money. A subsequent FBI investigation did, however, find alleged payments to Shoffner by a securities broker who'd done business with the state. Surely King and Hammer would want a similarly high standard of review for a Republican constitutional officer like Darr.