Tolbert: Sen. Bookout’s $50,000 Pie Box

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 65 views 

I will admit when I first heard of the complaint against Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) several months ago I chalked this up to another state candidate getting either lazy or sloppy with his bookkeeping.  But from the news reports on the closed door ethics hearing last week, it appears there might be a real problem for Sen. Bookout.

The complaint was filed by Bob Hester from Jonesboro on Bookout’s failure to itemize more than $50,000 in expenses in his 2012 re-election campaign.  What makes this even more odd is that Bookout was unopposed in his campaign. (View his final campaign report filing here.)

Without an opponent, it seems like he could have spent nothing and still won the election.  But with over $80,000 in contributions – including a $1,000 from Exxon Mobil Corp. – if you got it, spend it!

The problem is that you are required by law to disclose any campaign expenditures over $100, which Bookout did not do.  He instead lumped them together in broad categories. The largest of these categories was entertainment expenses totaling nearly $30,000.  For the last few months of his unopposed campaign, entertainment was over $5,000 a month.  Sounds like a fun campaign!

What strikes me is the contrast in tone from Bookout’s response when this complaint first came out and at the ethics hearing last week.

“I’ve always done my records accordingly like I understood we were suppose to. I’ve always abided by my understanding of what we were supposed to put in the reports,” Bookout told the Jonesboro Sun last spring after the complaint was filed.  When asked by the Sun if he had all of his receipts from his campaign expenses he replied, “I’m sure I do.”

However, it appears he either lost them or failed to bring them to the hearing last week.

Hester was allowed in the closed door hearing and gave the Sun a report on what occurred.

According to Hester, Bookout was represented by fellow Democratic Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould who told the board he did not have the receipts on-hand for his campaign expenses.  I asked Bookout and Thompson if this means they just failed to bring them to the hearing or if they do not have these receipts at all.  I also asked if they have them, would they make them available.

“We do not have any comment on this matter as long as it is pending,” replied Thompson.

This is a certainly a problem that is snowballing beyond simply keeping sloppy books.  Hester also told the Sun that the board is not only considering if Bookout failed to itemize expenses, but if he commingled campaign funds and personal funds and if he used campaign funds for personal use.

Obviously, using campaign funds for personal use is a huge violation of campaign law and could even be criminal.  Reportedly, Thompson offered for Bookout to repay up to $48,000 in funds back to the campaign, but it appears this came after he was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

It is time for Bookout to produce his records on his expenses.  As with most unopposed incumbents, most of his campaign contributions came from lobbyists and businesses with interests before the state legislature, such as Exxon Mobil or Oaklawn racetrack owner Charles Cella.

If you think to yourself what is the big deal over only $50,000, consider this – Martha Shoffner’s pie bribes totaled only $36,000, which is less than what we are talking about with Bookout.  If these $5,000 a month entertainment expenses were legitimate campaign expenses, Bookout needs to come forward with the records that he is required by law to submit.

If not, I don’t see the difference between a pie box and a campaign chest.