Ethics Case Threatens Mark Darr's Future (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 7:41 am  

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr

LITTLE ROCK — A political newcomer who rode to office on an anti-Obama tidal wave three years ago, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr once seemed like the new face of a Republican Party that was growing in Arkansas.

But claims of improper office and campaign spending aren't just threatening his political future, they're throwing into question whether he'll be able to remain in office.

Ethics Commission staff reportedly told Darr last week that they believe he improperly spent more than $44,000 from his campaign and office.

A blogger who filed an ethics complaint against Darr and the lieutenant governor's attorney told reporters last week that 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.

The ethics investigation comes on the heels of a legislative audit that cited $12,000 in travel expenses and reimbursements by his office. And it's another low point for Darr, who dropped his 2014 bid for a south Arkansas congressional seat over campaign spending questions.

He's finding little support among one-time allies. Even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page, which leans conservative, has called on him to resign.

"Go away, Mark Darr - now," the paper's editorial read.

If he heeds that advice, it'll be the end of Darr's quick rise from a northwest Arkansas pizza shop owner who had never sought office before to a lieutenant governor who knew how to grab headlines and ride popular issues.

Darr won the lieutenant governor's office in 2010, defeating Democratic rival and former state Sen. Shane Broadway, in a race where he promised to use the part-time position to fight the president's health overhaul on the state level.

Darr said he viewed the office as a chance to counter Democrats' dominance of state office.

"Right now, we have a one-party system," Darr said. "This allows some checks and balances."

After winning he wasn't afraid to use the office to poke at Democrats and wasn't shy about his own political ambitions. Six months after being sworn in, Darr even openly toyed with the idea of running against two of the Democratic Party's biggest figures as he mulled congressional and gubernatorial bids.



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