Today at a Legislative Audit Committee meeting, an explosive report was released by audit staff proving Lt. Governor Mark Darr illegally used government money for personal use and improperly charged state government for commuting mileage. In all, the report found Darr illegally used a total of $12,175 of taxpayer money for personal gain.
No one from the Republican-controlled Audit committee membership raised any serious questions or objections to Darr’s actions, and frankly their lack of demanding accountability was shocking. Longtime observers of Audit committee meetings privately were stunned on how the committee rolled over and allowed a elected official who committed such actions to leave without even a mild slap on the wrist.
You can view the full report here.
The report, which has been forward to the Prosecuting Attorney for review, found that Darr illegally used $2,339 of government funds for personal use. These illegal charges were made on Darr’s state credit card. What the charges were for was not brought to light at the committee meeting nor in the formal report.
The report also found that Darr violated state law by charging taxpayers $9,298 in excess mileage when he used his personal vehicle to commute from his home in Northwest Arkansas. Statewide constitutional officers are required by the state constitution to maintain an office in the “seat of government” and are thus ineligible for mileage reimbursement when they commute to the office.
The report also found that Darr had run afoul of IRS regulations by not reporting the excess mileage payment on his tax returns.
Mark Darr, and his chief of staff Bruce Campbell, appeared before the committee. Darr did not make a formal statement before the committee nor did he apologize at the meeting for violating state law. Darr simply thanked the Audit staff, and his staff, for all of their work and opened himself up for questions.
No one from the Republican-controlled Audit Committee publicly chastised Lt. Governor Darr for illegally using government money for personal use, nor were there any significant questions posed to Darr.
Questions asked by committee members were mostly directed toward audit staff on if lodging is provided to statewide constitutional officers. Incidentally, three Republican members of the committee are running for statewide office next year.
Rep. Andy Mayberry asked Darr if his staff had been re-trained as per the Legislative Audit report recommended, to which Darr replied they had been trained.
According to the report, Darr has so far reimbursed the state $1,202 for the government funds he illegally used for personal expenses. The report stated that Darr had also submitted a copy of a $1,137 check he said was submitted to the state, but as of yet the actual check has not been found in the State Auditor’s office.
Rep. Hammer asked about the check Darr says he sent to the Auditor to reimburse, but apparently has not been processed. Darr previously provided Legislative Audit a copy of the check, but no one in the Sate Auditor’s office has the original.
The report also recommended that Darr reimburse taxpayers for $9,836 in excess travel reimbursements. After the meeting, Darr told reporters he would do so, but did not say when.
Only Hammer and Mayberry asked Darr any questions, and as you can see, they were only clarification inquiries.
Not one legislator asked even the most basic of penetrating questions of Mark Darr. They asked questions of Audit staff on whether or not lodging was provided, seemingly trying to make apologies for Darr in his charging taxpayers to commute.
Here are basic questions that a high school student participating in a mock Student Congress would have asked the Lt. Governor:
1) Lt. Governor Darr, why did you use $2,339 of taxpayer money for personal use?
2) What were the personal expenses that the taxpayers paid for?
3) Did you ever ask the Secretary of State’s office if a room could be provided for you at the Capitol Hill apartments?
4) Why didn’t you, or anyone on your staff, check to see if you legally could be reimbursed for commuting?
5) Why did you believe you could use your state government credit card for personal use?
Those are just some reasonable questions that should have been asked, but the Republican-controlled legislative committee refused to do so.
What made the committee meeting even more shocking was, in response to a question, Rep. Hammer said since the report proved Darr had illegally misused government funds for personal gain, the report was forwarded to the Prosecuting Attorney.
But again, no comments or questions from committee members over the fact the Lt. Governor who sat before them could be prosecuted for his actions and possibly removed from office if convicted.
In my opinion, Lt. Governor Darr’s actions and misuse of government funds for personal gain were illegal and inexcusable.
And what’s almost as bad is that the Republican-controlled Legislative Audit committee allowed a fellow GOP office-holder to leave without even so much as a “tsk-tsk” for breaking the law. Accountability does not seem be to the watchword of this committee when it comes to Republicans who break the law.
UPDATE: State Senator Bryan King, co-chair of the Legislative Audit Committee, called me to today to make a very fair point that should be shared.
King was unable to attend yesterday’s meeting due to a prior commitment. Sen. King correctly pointed out that Lt. Governor Darr was under oath and Democratic legislators could have asked him questions, but none chose to do so.
I don’t know how many Democratic legislators were at yesterday meetings, but I did see a few who could have asked a question or two.
King may be slightly sensitive to the issue of “whitewash” after his committee voted today to accept the University of Arkansas’s audit without any discussion. This action has stirred up some controversy. King voted to keep debate/discussion of the UA issue open, but was outvoted by the rest of the committee.
The Arkansas Times Blog has a helpful account of went happened today over the UA audit that is causing some folks to use the term “whitewash” more often in reference to this committee.