The Arkansas Ethics Commission will meet for its regular monthly meeting Friday morning (Aug. 16) in Little Rock where it is expected to take up the complaint filed against Sen. Paul Bookout.
The Commission cannot by law comment on the complaint – not even to confirm the existence of a complaint – until it has been resolved through dismissal, settlement, or unless the official disputes the commission’s findings and a public hearing is scheduled.
Nevertheless, the Commission did send a notice to the person who filed the complaint – Bob Hester of Jonesboro. He provided a copy of the letter from the Commission to The Arkansas Project, which can read here.
The notice states that the meeting on Friday will include a Final Adjudication Hearing on the Bookout complaint. The commission will determine if Bookout violated the law by taking campaign funds as personal income (7-6-203(g)), co-mingled campaign funds with personal funds (7-6-203(i)), failed to keep adequate records of his campaign finances (7-6-206), and/or failed to adequately report his contributions and expenses (7-6-207 (b)(1)(A), (E), (F), (G), (H) and/or (I)).
Of course nothing is public yet, but before a Final Adjudication Hearing normally takes place, the Commission will try to work out a settlement with the respondent. This means it is likely the Commission made a settlement offer. At that point, Bookout could either accept and sign it, reject it and ask for a public hearing to make his case, or do nothing which after 10 days would send the matter to a Final Adjudication Hearing. This hearing is private, but if the Commission votes and takes action that would be public.
As previously reported, the issue involves roughly $50,000 in unitemized campaign expenses from Bookout’s 2012 Senate re-election campaign in which he was unopposed. Most of this amount was lumped into the broad “entertainment” category. Arkansas law 7-6-207 (b)(1)(E) requires “itemization of all single expenditures made which exceed one hundred dollars ($100), including the amount of the expenditure, the name and address of any person, including the candidate, to whom the expenditure was made, and the date the expenditure was made.”
Unless all of the $50,000 in expenses from Bookout’s campaign were below the $100 threshold – which is highly unlikely – then he has not complied with the law. Hopefully, any settlement reached will require Bookout to fully and at long last comply with the law and disclose his campaign expenses. He has denied my request to see this detail. This needs to fully be disclosed in order to clear the questions.
Interestingly, a new law passed by the legislature goes into effect on Friday - August 16 – that just might have an impact on this case. ACT 724 defines the term “infamous crime” – under the constitutional section that prohibits state officials from holding office – as a felony offense, a misdemeanor theft of property offense, abuse of office (under 5-51-107), tampering (under 5-53-110), and/or a misdemeanor offense in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud, or false statement.
That last item seems especially pertinent. I am sure Bookout is aware of this law as he did vote for its passage.
We will update this as we hear more on Friday. Most likely, the Commission will meet privately first followed by a public vote with more information. It could get very interesting.