Update: Report Details Spending by Paul Bookout

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013 3:02 pm  

Paul Bookout

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A former Arkansas state senator who resigned after the state Ethics Commission said he illegally spent thousands in campaign funds could only identify less than a quarter of the more than $63,000 spent by his campaign as legitimately related to his re-election bid, documents released Wednesday show.

The Arkansas Ethics Commission released 127 pages of documents related to the investigation of former Democratic Sen. Paul Bookout, who stepped down last month after he was reprimanded and fined by the panel. A special prosecutor has been appointed to see whether the ex-lawmaker from Jonesboro should face any criminal charges.

The panel ruled that Bookout, a former state Senate president, spent more than $53,000 from his re-election bid on clothing, home theater equipment and dozens of other personal items. He was fined $8,000 and reprimanded by the panel.

The records released Wednesday show that Bookout told Ethics Commission staff in June that he did not keep up with receipts or invoices for all of his campaign spending.

"Throughout his statement, Mr. Bookout used the words 'poor judgment' and 'too casual' to describe his bookkeeping," according to a letter Commission Attorney Todd Elder wrote to the panel in July.

Bookout did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday. He was unopposed last year and raised nearly $81,000.

According to Elder's letter, Bookout told commission staff in June that he "believes in his heart" that all of the $63,334 his campaign spent last year was related to his re-election bid. However, the former senator said he was only able to identify five expenditures totaling $13,964 that he could confidently defend as legitimate expenses.

The commission's staff said $4,000 of that was a donation Bookout made to the state Democratic Party. The staff said the donation wasn't proper since it was transferred before the election, but that the panel never cited it as a violation.

The documents detailed spending that the panel had cited as illegal. The spending included $5,043 for women's clothing and accessories, $8,402 for home theater equipment and installation, and $1,305 for golf equipment and clothes at a country club. The panel also said more than $18,000 from the campaign was transferred to Bookout's personal bank account.

Invoices released by the commission showed that the women's clothing was purchased by Bookout's wife and daughter at Steamroller Blues, a Jonesboro store. The home theater equipment included a 65-inch Samsung 3D television for Bookout's home. Other expenses listed on campaign checking account statements included meals at various restaurants and purchases at sporting goods stores.

The report also showed that Bookout rejected a settlement offer by the commission that would have imposed a lower fine of $4,000 and a letter of reprimand. The settlement would have required Bookout to agree to the commission's findings that he violated four campaign finance laws. The documents released Wednesday did not explain why Bookout rejected the offer.

Four Democrats and three Republicans are running to serve the remainder of Bookout's four-year term. Gov. Mike Beebe set Oct. 8 as the date of the Democratic and Republican primaries for Bookout's seat. If needed, a primary runoff will be held Nov. 12. The special election for the seat will be Jan. 14.

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