The Arkansas Ethics Commission released a staff report on Wednesday (Dec. 18) alleging that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, R-Ark., misspent more than $44,000 in both campaign and public funds.
The issue of spending by Darr was first brought to light by attorney and liberal blogger Matt Campbell, who reported inaccuracies in Darr’s campaign finance reports tied to his run for lieutenant governor and filed an ethics complaints against him. The disclosure came to light shortly after Darr’s declared candidacy for the 4th District Congressional seat. Darr dropped out of the race 17 days after announcing.
After announcing his withdrawal from the race, the lieutenant governor told Talk Business in an interview that he had in fact made errors in his campaign finance reporting.
“No one wants to make a mistake in filling out reports obviously, I’m not throwing other people under the bus. I signed the reports, so it’s my campaign, my responsibility. But there were some errors on there,” he admitted.
Darr also said he expects he may owe his campaign money as he took more than the debt he was owed.
“I think I will. It’s not a whole lot of money but it’s still an error in calculation and reporting,” Darr said. He was not ready to disclose the total repayment as he wanted attorney Paul Dumas to review his amended reports, but he said the amount was “not exorbitant.”
An annual legislative audit found that the problems were not confined simply to the campaign, but included information alleging that Darr had misspent nearly $10,000 in state funds on items including lodging, commuting expenses and other personal expenses.
According to Campbell, who was in the hearing Wednesday, the violations alleged against Darr included:
• $3,577.76 in improper travel reimbursements;
• $3,532.60 in personal expenses on a state credit card;
• $31,572.74 of campaign funds used for personal expenses; and
• $6,000 in campaign contributions in excess of campaign contributions.
Campbell said the Ethics Commission noted Darr’s cooperation with the investigation, adding that Darr’s defense was that “he just didn’t know what he could and couldn’t do (with campaign and state funds).”
Darr could face maximum fines of $2,000 for each of the 12 violations he is alleged to have committed, though Campbell doubts he’d actually be asked to pay the full $24,000 maximum fine.
“They won’t hit him with the full $24,000 fine because they noted that he was forthcoming with information when the investigation started.”
Darr did not make a statement following the hearing, though when asked by a reporter if he would resign his post as lieutenant governor, he replied, “No.”
Campbell, who has built a reputation as a thorn in the side of Republican officeholders, said the findings released today shows that the law works.
“This is proof that the system works when people are willing to actually put in the effort and file the complaint,” he said. “There’s a lot of allegations of people doing X or Y, but nobody takes the next step and files a complaint. The ethics commission did a great job on the investigation. The accounting was thorough.”
There has been no word on if the findings of the Ethics Commission report would be forwarded to a special prosecutor. The Legislative Audit report was forwarded to Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley for review of possible criminal violations.