State Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) was handed an $8,000 fine and a reprimand from the Arkansas Ethics Commission for his misuse of nearly $50,000 in campaign funds.

Information disclosed after a hearing on Friday (Aug. 16) showed that Bookout, a former Senate President Pro Temp, spent $5,000 on women’s clothing, $8,000 on a home surround sound system, $1,350 on country club dues, and transferred $18,000 from his campaign account to a personal bank account.

Bookout said he would not step down from his seat and he declared he would reimburse his contributors on a pro rata basis after returning $49,000 to his campaign account.

In a statement to Fox 16 reporter David Goins, Bookout said:

“I respect the process of the Arkansas Ethics Commission that led to their decision and I fully intend to abide by it. I have cooperated with the Commission on these matters since the issues first arose and were brought to my attention. I do not intend to appeal the decision. Amended contribution and expense reports are being filed today in conjunction with the Commission’s ruling. Those reports were updated to the best of my knowledge and ability.

I value the trust my campaign donors place in me with their political contributions. To that end, I will be reimbursing my campaign approximately $49,000, and then repaying contributors pro-rata over the next 30 days. This is not required by the Ethics Commission’s decision, but I feel it is the right thing to do, given the ruling of the Ethics Commission.

I am honored to serve the people of my district in the Arkansas Senate. I look forward to completing my final term in office focused on the issues facing our state.”

You can read Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert’s previous coverage of the story at this link.

The complaint was brought forward by Bob Hester of Jonesboro who noticed the lack of documentation for a large number of transactions on Bookout’s 2012 campaign expense reports. Bookout was running unopposed but significant expenses were listed as “unitemized” or as “entertainment” on his reports.

Arkansas law 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.”

You can read the formal motion and details from the Arkansas Ethics Commission meeting at this link.

UPDATE I:  Matt DeCample, a spokesperson for Gov. Mike Beebe (D), says the findings by the commission are the most recent example of an elected official violating the public trust, but that Beebe is not asking Bookout to resign.

From Republican Party of Arkansas spokesman David Ray:
“Today’s developments regarding Paul Bookout are shocking, alarming, and greatly disappointing. This represents a very serious breach of the public’s trust. It is sad that this type of behavior is all too common among Arkansas Democrats, who have controlled the state for the last 130 years. We hope that our state’s leaders and the justice system will hold Senator Bookout accountable, just as they have in the cases of Martha Shoffner and Hudson Hallum.”

From Democratic Party of Arkansas spokesperson Candace Martin:
“Senator Bookout has a strong record of service in the Senate. It is my understanding he is reimbursing campaign donors over these issues with his campaign report. He can put this behind him and continue his service to the people of his community.”

Sen. President Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) said:
“I respect the decision of the Ethics Commission. Sen. Bookout has been a valued member of the Senate and a friend.”

UPDATE II:  Reached after hours, Jonesboro Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington (D) tells Talk Business that he will review the ethics ruling on Monday and research applicable state laws that may have been violated.  He said he expected to make a decision on possible action next week.

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