Bookout's $267,000 and Darr's double-dips: They make case for campaign finance reform | Arkansas Blog

Bookout's $267,000 and Darr's double-dips: They make case for campaign finance reform

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MARK DARR: Poster boy for campaign finance reform. - SUPER COUNTRY 105
  • Super Country 105
  • MARK DARR: Poster boy for campaign finance reform.
I've complained unceasingly and with no effect on the inherent corruption in the way the legislature has shaped and misshaped the campaign finance law.

Winners get to keep campaign money surpluses equal to their pay. They have successfully gamed the state Ethics Commission into allow them to spend that money just about any old way in terms of getting out and about to restaurants, football games and other places people gather.

An even more corrupt use of the money is the spending of campaign money on contributions to other candidates. An Ethics Commission rule SPECIFICALLY prohibits this. But legislators have convinced the Ethics Commission that their campaigns and public life is advanced by buying tickets to their colleagues fund-raisers. In a notable abuse by Republicans, admission to one such bogus event required a legiasltor like Rep. John Burris to make five separate contributions to attend one event, a quick gathering at a restaurant. Burris, with no opponent and term-limited, gave thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates, many of them already recipient of maximum contributions from the same people who gave money to Burris so he could give those same people more money. Our so-called "Ethics" Commission decided this was legal.

Given how corrupt the practice is — it particularly favors entrenched politicians with no opponents who can raise vast sums — it's not at all surprising that people like Paul Bookout and Lt. Gov. Mark Darr gave little thought to covering their tracks. Bookout wrote off $50,000 to entertainment in untemized spending. I guess an $8,000 home entertainment system is entertainment. Mark Darr charged men's, women's and children's clothing to his campaign account as legiitimate expenses. He also charged travel expenses for commutes home — expenses he also apparently charged to taxpayers through his office account. Bookout has resigned and a prosecutor is inquiring. Darr is under Ethics investigation, but the office spending requires a special prosecutor's review, too.

The carryover surpluses need to be eliminated. Contributions from campaign accounts need to be eliminated, no matter the lame excuse. Law violators need to be prosecuted, not just given a tap on the wrist and nominal fine (which the Ethics Commission has allowed candidates to pay out of their CAMPAIGN ACCOUNTS. Some penalty.)

More on this this week from Roy Ockert, a columnist who writes for the Jonesboro Sun. He took a closer look at Paul Bookout. Bookout may be the worst, but he's by no means alone among long-term legislators who've raised huge sums beyond what their unopposed candidacies required and spent it with little or no review. He notes that Bookout raised $267,350 in six uncontested elections since 2010. It wasn't itemized and, we now know, more than $80,000 in 2012 was spent substantially on personal expenses. That's the equivalent of untaxed income, which makes it even more valuable.

Ockert wants ethics to be a centerpiece in the special election to replace Bookout, now underway. He'd like to hear what candidates have to say about the ballot proposal that will ban gifts to public officials, but also loosen term limits and allow for more pay raises for public officials. Good idea.

Unfortunately, what we know now is that the ethics measure was sadly lacking in a provision to do something about an even bigger sewer than wining and dining of legislators — the misuse of money poured into campaign accounts, heavily by the lobbyists whose influence Regnat Populus wants to curb.

Water is like money. It will find an outlet. Too often in the back pocket of a grifting public official.

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