Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr told reporters today that he has no plans to resign from office over a major ethics fine and that his case is different from others in recent politics because he had no “malicious intentional disregard of the law.”
Speaking in one-on-one interviews with select reporters at the state capitol, Darr said he should have been more precise in his reporting and taken extra steps to better document reimbursements from his debt reduction efforts to a $170,000 personal loan he made when he ran for office in 2010.
“I do know that my violations were mistakes, oversights, sloppy bookkeeping, whatever you want to say, they were definitely mistakes that were my responsibility,” Darr said. “I never tried to hide from them. I always tried to work cooperatively – if that’s grounds for removal then I would have removed myself prior to being asked by anybody.”
Darr questioned the $11,000 fine levied on him by the Arkansas Ethics Commission – the largest fine assessed on an individual officeholder in the panel’s history – even though he signed a letter of agreement to the penalty in late December.
“To be honest with you, I can’t decide their motives on why or how they pass down certain fines, or the amounts of fines,” Darr said. “What I did was not illegal, but how I reported it was incorrect and up for an ethics violation.”
Citing State Sen. Paul Bookout, a Jonesboro Democrat who resigned from office amid an ethics scandal in 2013, Darr said that if a Democrat were in his position, he would not be calling for his resignation either.
“No I wouldn’t,” he said. “People want an elected official who owns up to their mistakes and that’s what I’ve done.”
When asked if he would resign from office if the Arkansas House of Representatives initiated impeachment proceedings against him, Darr said the decision would involve his wife, Kim, and he could not answer the question today.
“That’s going to be a conversation for Kim and I to have. We can worry about what-ifs and haves and have-nots down the road. I respect every member of the House of Representatives, I don’t necessarily agree with all of their viewpoints – and I’m talking about some Republicans too – but they have to do what they feel is right and I have to do what I feel is right,” Darr said.
“Those who’ve asked for my resignation, I think a good majority of them are acting politically. I think some are acting where they don’t know the full truth. I think they’re ignorant of the truth and have only heard one side so far. And some of them have probably just made an emotional response,” Darr said. “Those elected officials who have called for my resignation, I think they have the right to demand an apology but not demand my resignation.”
DARR’S FULL STATEMENT RELEASED TO THE PRESS
Darr released a comprehensive statement to the media on Tuesday:
“Kim and I would like to thank many people across the state for their calls, texts and prayers during this difficult time. We have been encouraged by your willingness to stand up for us and beside us throughout this process. Probably one of the most valuable lessons we have learned over the past few years is the value of friendship. We have been encouraged in good faith to share with the people of Arkansas the factual truth, instead of continuing to remain silent.
I am not downplaying what has occurred, but there is no scandal, no conspiracy and no malicious intentional disregard of the law. If there were, it would apparently involve multiple offices and agencies. It was an oversight that should have been noticed and corrected long before now and by multiple people including myself.
Over the past few months I have been diligently working with various state offices to correct errors that were either directly or indirectly my responsibility, but are no more than unintentional mistakes. I have walked through the process, worked cooperatively, and taken responsibility, but the facts have not been accurately presented to the public. For the errors I made, I apologize to the people of Arkansas and I will now share the actual facts.
First, what has not been stated is that in 2010, I loaned my campaign over $170,000 and had every legal right to raise money and retire that debt. This is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, I erred in how I reported those payments and fundraising activities, which has been incorrectly interpreted as my using campaign funds for personal use. When this was brought to my attention, I immediately became pro-active to be transparent and correct those mistakes by requesting that the ethics commission review my previous filings for potential errors, which included filing an ethics complaint on myself. I want you to know that at the end of the day, the only money that ever came back to me, in whatever form, was a repayment of campaign debt that was legally owed to me.
Second, over the past three years I collected almost $10,000 in travel reimbursements that were incorrect. These were reimbursements for official travel. The error was using my home as the point of origin instead of the Capitol building. As Lieutenant Governor I am constitutionally given the same privilege that the Governor has in regards to travel and security. This means that I could have spent tens of thousands of dollars of the taxpayer’s money over the past three years by using the Arkansas State Police to provide transportation and security. I could have also purchased, like my predecessor, a state vehicle which would cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. Instead, I decided to use my personal vehicle and was reimbursed mileage an average of $3,000 per year over the past three years. This saved the taxpayers of Arkansas countless tax dollars. The Lieutenant Governor’s office is different in the fact that we submit our payment requests to the State Auditor’s office for payment. The State Auditor’s office would pay the bill or contact us when something appeared to be inaccurate. No one in my office was ever contacted to make us aware of the policy regarding the Capitol building being the point of origin instead of my home. Furthermore, in a previous annual audit, no findings were issued and the travel reimbursement was not brought to our attention by Legislative Audit.
Third, that I misused state funds by using the state credit card for personal expense. These were purchases that were either for official state use or used by mistake while traveling. As soon as the errors were realized, I reimbursed the state for those charges. For some unknown reason, it appears that the State Auditor’s office failed to deposit one of the checks, for which I have proof of payment. I will gladly resubmit this check.
These three facts are not worthy of my removal from office and certainly not worthy of personal attacks on my character and on my family. The cost of a special election would be in excess of one million dollars. This cost coupled with the facts that I have outlined concerning my actions, convince me that I should stay in office. I believe that this course would be best for the state.
Today I put a stake in the ground. Not for this office, not for the title or the job, but I put a stake in the ground for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them. It would be an immediate fix to tuck tail and run but I would regret it for years to come. I am a normal citizen, who ran for office, who is trying to do my job to the best of my ability with integrity and character. I am doing what is necessary to make things right and I have a peace in sharing the truth with you today. This has been an embarrassing time for my family and me and when history is recorded I want my children to know that I have owned up to mistakes and made them right. Thank you Kim and so many others for encouraging me to share the truth.”
REACTION TO DARR STATEMENTS
Democrats issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Darr’s response and took the opportunity to tie GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson to the story. Vince Insalaco, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas said:
“Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr’s insistence that he meant no wrong does not erase the fact that he broke 11 ethics violations and illegally spent campaign and taxpayer money. And anyone who has called for him to resign and repair the public’s trust is simply upholding transparency and ethics in our government and standing up for the taxpayers of Arkansas. Calls for a resignation have come from Republicans and Democrats alike because we are Arkansans first who care about our state’s tax dollars.”
“The fact is that Mark Darr can no longer honorably serve as the second-highest ranking official of our state. If a person commits a crime, an excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ wouldn’t pass muster with a judge. Darr has lost the public’s trust entirely and must resign.”
“Asa Hutchinson has refused to call on Mark Darr to resign immediately despite Mark Darr’s own admission of illegally spending campaign and taxpayer dollars. Hutchinson’s reason for not calling on Darr to resign is a DC politician’s excuse. Arkansans are right to expect that their elected officials be held to the highest standards of ethical conduct. It’s troubling that Asa Hutchinson is comfortable allowing Mark Darr to continue serving as Arkansas’s Lt. Governor.”
Last month, Hutchinson said that judgment on Darr should wait until a prosecutorial review was completed.
“If criminal charges are filed then a resignation should be demanded. Until then, we should let the process work and expect the decision of the Ethics Commission in terms of fine and amended reports to be fulfilled,” Hutchinson said on Dec. 31.
Arkansas GOP chairman Doyle Webb adopted Hutchinson’s position on the matter last week.
“We are confident that any further legal review or investigation will be conducted appropriately and that if criminal charges are warranted we will request his resignation immediately,” Webb said in his statement.
Gov. Mike Beebe and gubernatorial candidates Mike Ross (D) and Rep. Debra Hobbs (R-Rogers) have previously called on Darr to resign. Also, the five Republican members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation have said Darr should step down.
Late Tuesday, House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) issued a statement regarding potential impeachment proceedings against Darr.
“Today’s events have raised the level of inquiries into my office regarding the mechanics of the impeachment process. From research conducted by my office, no one has ever been impeached in Arkansas under our current Constitution written in 1874.
Moreover, there are limited statutes on the subject and virtually no precedence in the House to look to for procedural guidance. Everyone is entitled to due process before substantive judgments are made, and, as we sit here today, there is no clear process clearly established in the House.
Accordingly, my office is contemplating a couple of avenues in which to provide a proper process should the majority of members decide to pursue impeachment. The most likely scenario at this juncture would be the appointment of eight to ten House members to a bi-partisan ad hoc committee charged with making procedural recommendations to the House Committee on Rules.”
Talk Business sources indicate that some members are advocating strongly for potential impeachment, while other House members are simply interested in guidance on the matter.