by Max Brantley
It concerns Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, currently running for 4th District Congress.
It's long and detailed, but the essence is very simple. In 2011, after he was elected and his campaign was over, Darr spent substantial sums of money on 1) clothing; 2) meals; 3) gas, and 4) FUND RAISERS, though he was not allowed to raise any money in 2011 except to the extent it was necessary to pay off campaign debts. You may not continue to spend money out of your campaign account on personal items so as to justify subsequent fund-raisers.
The spending is so persistent and the amounts so significant and the payments so head-scratching ($1,500 to the University of Arkansas for a "fund-raiser") that a thorough investigation would seem to be in order. The Republican mouthpieces shouting about Paul Bookout will shortly be calling for one, won't they? Won't they? Or maybe Bobby Hester.
Darr ended his 2010 campaign $115,766 in the whole. He managed to run a deficit spending campaign with $170,000 in loans. He's whittled the debt to himself down substantially, to $24,000, but debt repayment is still not a justification under the law for purely personal expenses. I have sought a comment from him and his campaign. No response so far. I think there's an effort underway by the Darr camp to reconstruct his records, back to his original filing and see if some sense can be brought to the mess. Until then, I'm guessing there'll be little to say.
PS — Darr's frequent fillups and food charges are particularly evident in this report in October 2011. That $250 charge to "Sunstation" in Little Rock. You think that's a monster truck fillup? Or a tanning salon purchase? Maybe some fancy sunglasses. Every campaign needs a pair.
PPS — Reports are flying about an avalanche of partisan plans to file numerous ethics complaint based on the questions raised by a cursory review of any number of filings. Some want another pound of flesh out of Paul Bookout over his problematic 2010 report, though the criminal statute has tolled and, since the law doesn't require repayment, the only product of that investigation, if it bore fruit, would be some more fines and embarrassment for someone who's lost his private job, reputation and, likely, his Senate seat. The public official who fully and comprehensively and correctly handles carryover campaign money is rare, based on my own search. I've written this week that one solution to unethical public officials is to reduce their temptations by ending carryover money. Incumbents like this built-in payola far too much to get rid of it, however.
PPPS — The reaction from Republicans so far to news about Darr is precisely nothing. Or, well, repetitive mentions that Paul Bookout ought to get a proctoscope on 2010, too. Let's review: Bookout got a record fine and a stern reprimand. He's been thoroughly and properly disgraced. He's ruined his father's legacy. He faces criminal investigation. He lost a private job. He'll likely resign the Senate. But the GOP shills want to talk about Bookout in 2010, not Darr. I think making an overtly partisan blood sport of this with mountains of complaints on sometimes small matters built on conjecture will only further sour a public sour enough on politics. I think it's important to pick spots. Bobby Hester hit a gusher on Paul Bookout. Reworking it doesn't serve the public interest much, seems to me. It diverts a small agency's limited time from fresher matters. Maybe THAT's the point.