Update: Mark Darr Appears Before Ethics Commission

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 3:53 pm  

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr

LITTLE ROCK - Lt. Gov. Mark Darr went before the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Wednesday to face allegations from the group that he improperly spent about $44,000 from his campaign and office accounts.

Darr spent a half-hour behind closed doors with the commission and Matt Campbell, whose Blue Hog blog first leveled accusations about Darr's spending.

Commission members and staff are barred from revealing details of ethics complaints until the panel takes final action. The five-member commission, which enforces standards of conduct for public officials and lobbyists, didn't publicly vote Wednesday on anything pertaining to Darr, and it could be a couple of months before it does so.

Campbell, who was allowed in the closed meeting because he filed complaints against Darr, said the commission reviewed a report that included $31,500 in personal use of campaign funds, about $3,500 in improper use of a state credit card and about $3,500 in improper travel reimbursements.

Campbell said Darr apologized for his actions and said he intends make restitution. Darr's attorney confirmed Campbell's account of the meeting and report.

Darr, a Republican, had been running this year for the 4th District congressional seat but dropped out after allegations about his spending arose. He said Wednesday he hadn't decided whether to run for re-election.

Last week, a separate state legislative audit detailed $12,000 in improper travel expenses and reimbursements, which Darr also pledged to repay.

It was unclear how much, if any, overlap there is between the expenses identified by the commission and by legislative auditors.

The report also noted $6,000 in excess campaign contributions, Campbell said. Three people donated $2,000 each to Darr's campaign and then each gave $2,000 to help him retire his campaign debt, which is against campaign contribution rules.

"It started just with some looking into possible misuse of a state credit card. I started cross-referencing that with the campaign contribution reports and just noticed a whole lot of discrepancies and a whole lot of expenditures that didn't look legit," Campbell said of his initial complaint against Darr.

Darr's attorney, Dan Greenberg, who was with his client at the meeting, said Darr's problems are mainly a matter of keeping sloppy books.

"What he has said is that he was a bad record-keeper, but he didn't take money that wasn't his," Greenberg said in a phone interview after the meeting. "He (Darr) borrowed a bunch of money to run; then he raised a bunch of money; then he used that money that was owed to him for personal expenses."

Greenberg said he expects the commission to conclude there is probable cause to uphold the allegations. If that happens, the commission will send Darr a proposed settlement letter. The panel could fine and reprimand Darr.

Darr briskly walked to his car after the meeting and told reporters he would comment later. Darr did say he didn't plan to resign.

Campbell said that if the commission finds probable cause for the allegations, Darr should leave office.

Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday he was concerned about the audit's findings and the ethics allegations but withheld comment on whether Darr should resign. He said he wants to wait for the commission's ruling.

"I think it raises alarm with everybody," Beebe told The Associated Press.

Beebe compared the allegations against Darr to the violations the ethics commission said former state Sen. Paul Bookout committed. Bookout, a Democrat, resigned earlier this year after the commission said he spent thousands of dollars from his campaign on stereo equipment, clothing and other personal items.

"Only Darr did one other thing," Beebe said, "which is not just use campaign money for personal use but also use state taxpayer money. Which makes it a double whammy."

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