Harrelson Paying For Apartment With Campaign Funds; Possible Ethics Violation

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 75 views 

It appears Sen. Steve Harrelson (D-Texarkana) has a possible ethics violation for the way he has been paying for his Capitol Hill apartment for the last three and a half years.

State legislators have access to apartments owned by the state just next to the state capitol in what are known as The Capitol Hill apartments.  The rent is paid to the Secretary of State.

According to Harrelson’s campaign contribution and expenditure reports, he has paid for his apartment from campaign funds since the beginning of 2009 through his most recent payment in July of this year.  The amount was $300 per month for 2009 and 2010 and then increased to $320 per month beginning in 2011.  The total rent payment for this time period was $13,320.

The Arkansas Ethics Commission lays out specific rules as to how to handle this situation in their “Rules on Campaign Finance and Disclosure” – Rule 209(c)(ii) which states (emphasis mine)….

§ 209 Personal Expenses-Prohibited Uses – Campaign funds may not be used to pay personal expenses. The following expenses are considered “personal expenses” per se…Mortgage, Rent and Utility Payments…This includes any payments with respect to a personal residence of the candidate or his or her family, even if a portion of the residence is used by the campaign. It does not include…(ii) payments made by a member of the General Assembly with respect to an apartment leased solely for use while in the capitol on official business so long as the apartment is not maintained as the officeholder’s primary personal residence and per diem is used to pay a proportional share of the rent and utilities incurred in connection with maintaining the apartment. That share shall be determined using a fraction, the numerator of which shall be the number of days per diem was received in a particular month and the denominator of which shall be the total number of days in that month.

In simple language, this rule says that state legislators should use their per diem reimbursements to pay for their legislative apartment for the days it is being used for legislative business.  During the time period Harrelson was paying rent from campaign funds, he received a total of $104,060.84 in expense reimbursements ($56,171.58 in the House and $47,889.26 from the Senate) which could have been used to the pay the rent. This includes a monthly stipend specifically for office expenses, which is currently $2,004 per month.  This does not include amounts paid from the Bureau of Legislative Research or Legislative Audit which would actually increase these totals.

Instead, Harrelson used his campaign funds and appears not to have allocated any of the rent to be paid from his per diem reimbursement.  Instead, the records show that he paid the full amount of his apartment rent from his campaign account.

Harrelson admitted the oversight today when asked about it by the Tolbert Report and said that he is taking steps to correct it.

“Thanks for bringing this to my attention,” said Harrelson. “I’ve been so focused on campaigning and my professional and personal life that this slipped by me. I’ve written a check to my campaign in the amount of $2,972.00 and will file an amended financial report to reflect this documentation.”

Harrelson said he believes this will correct the error all the way back to 2009 when he began paying for his apartment from campaign funds.

Sen. Harrelson faces Republican Jimmy Hickey – a retired banker – in November.