Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ethics Commission presented with lengthy particulars on Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's spending

Posted By on Sun, Sep 29, 2013 at 8:02 AM

click to enlarge MARK DARR: His road trips under scrutiny.
  • MARK DARR: His road trips under scrutiny.

Matt Campbell of the Blue Hog Report is doing all he can do to help the state Ethics Commission do its job.

Campbell earlier filed a complaint with the Commission over obvious problems with Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's campaign finance filings. He continued to raise money in excess of what was necessary to pay off debts. He spent money on what clearly seem to be personal expenditures (at women's clothing stores, for example). 

But then Campbell found even more smoking pistols. That was a pattern of Darr billing his campaign for what appear to be traveling expenses for which he had also billed the state of Arkansas through his office expense account. Many of the charges look suspiciously like commuting expenses from Darr's home in Springdale to the Capitol and back.

The Commission generally won't dig far into complaints. At least not any farther than it must. That was evident when it took Sen. Jeremy "Gatborbait" Hutchinson at his word when he said there were just a couple of  little old checks written by his mistress out of campaign funds — unbeknownst to him — and he was really sorry and he would pay the money back and could we just move along and not look at anything else? Sadly, that was good enough for the Ethics Commission.

Darr tried the same "self-reporting" gambit, but Campbell got to the Ethics Commission office before Darr did. And Campbell has presented information that will make it impossible not to consider both campaign and official spending.

Check out this letter he mailed the Commission last week. It is a heckuva bill of particulars. On the jump, I've listed just the dubious mileage charges. He's also put in play an issue that needs a new look by the Ethics Commission — the practice of the University of Arkansas to let elected officials like Darr get Razorback football tickets at face value, without paying the premium seat charge assessed regular fans. They also get free parking in Fayetteville, modestly valued at $20 per game by the UA, which is a joke in itself. In all, Darr and others get benefits worth thousands of dollars from the UA, benefits not available except by virtue of their office. In my opinion, that runs afoul of multiple laws.

Campbell has also raised questions that a vigorous Commission would pursue with its subpoena power. That is that money was spent for fund-raising events in months after the election in 2010 where Darr reported scant additional contributions. Were the fund-raisers failures? Where's the full accounting of revenue?

Legislative Audit is nominally performing a routine audit of Darr's office. The Republican co-chairs have been made aware of the manifest problems with Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's campaign and office spending. The Division has a good opportunity here to earn its past reputation for even-handed investigation. And to share the documents when the work is done. And to forward the information to a prosecutor, as it often does.

From Blue Hog's letter:

o On May 16 and 17, 2011, Mr. Darr traveled from Little Rock to Fort Smith and back and was reimbursed for the 320 miles ($134.40) on the trip. On the way, there was a “fundraiser” for $132.12 at the 7-Up Kwik Stop in Ola, AR, that his campaign paid for.

o On June 7, 2011, Mr. Darr claimed 426 miles ($178.92) for reimbursement based on a trip from Little Rock to Rogers and back. On June 7, 2011, there was a “fundraiser” at Love’s Country Store in Ozark, AR, for $120.06.
o On June 17, 2011, Darr claimed 219 miles ($91.98) for reimbursement for a trip from Little Rock to Rogers, plus an 8-mile reimbursement ($3.36) for driving from Rogers to Springdale on that trip. That same day, a “fundraiser” was held at Pilot in Russellville, AR, for $109.21.

o There was a July 24-26, 2011, trip to Austin, TX, to meet with Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Darr claimed 1,030 in mileage ($432.60). Along the way, his campaign paid $155.31 for food at Vince Young’s Steakhouse6 and $100.98 for “supplies” at Prime Mart in Austin.

o There was also a July 28, 2011, trip from Little Rock to Blytheville and back, for which Mr. Darr claimed 380 miles of reimbursement ($159.60), while his campaign picked up the tab for $123.86 in “supplies” at Walmart along the way.

o After buying “supplies” on 8/29/11 at the Kum & Go in Springdale, AR, for $111.97, which his campaign paid for, Mr. Darr drove from Little Rock to Benton and back on August 31, then was reimbursed for 48 miles ($20.16).
o Mr. Darr drove from Little Rock to Fayetteville on September 1, 2011, for 188 reimbursed miles ($78.96) plus another 15 ($6.30) from Fayetteville to his home in Springdale, while his campaign had an expense for $111.08 worth of “supplies” at the Pilot in Russellville on 8/31.

o On September 13, 2011, Mr. Darr drove from Springdale to Fayetteville and back, requesting reimbursement for 19 miles ($7.98). His campaign paid $123.84 for “supplies” at the Kum & Go in Lowell, AR, that same day.
o Mr. Darr drove from Springdale to Little Rock and back on September 14, 2011, for a meeting, claiming 400 miles ($168.00) for reimbursement, and his campaign notes “supplies” for $105.00 at the Fastrip in Springdale around that same time.

o Mr. Darr attended the 125th Anniversary of his alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, on September 20, 2011. The day before, he went to Walker Bros., a clothing store in Fayetteville, with his campaign paying for $119.62 in “supplies” as well as for $105.86 more in “supplies” at the Love’s in Ozark, AR. He then billed the state for the 138 round-trip miles ($57.96) between Little Rock and Arkadelphia on September 20.

o October 25, 2011, Mr. Darr drove from Springdale to Ozark and back, reimbursing himself for 160 miles ($67.20). The campaign paid for $105.59 in “supplies” at the Kum & Go in Springdale.

o Mr. Darr drove from Springdale to Hot Springs and back, for 396 miles in reimbursement ($166.32), on November 22, 2011. The campaign paid for $105.28 in “supplies” at the Kum & Go in Springdale.

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