Book On Out of There (Editorial)

Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, didn’t waste much time — but more than he should have — in resigning from the Arkansas Senate. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, and may not be, but he has admitted that he used thousands of dollars donated to his (unopposed) campaign for purchases that were entirely personal.

Campaign finance laws can seem arcane and unnecessarily complex, but the concept is not unique to politicians. Fiduciaries, brokers, agents, trustees, attorneys — even borrowers — are also entrusted with other people’s money for limited and specific purposes. Campaign contributions do not, and should not, become personal income to provide public servants with more comfortable standards of living than they have otherwise earned.

Political opponents have compared Bookout’s violations to those of former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, who has admitted taking thousands of dollars from a bond broker with whom her office did business. The comparison is only halfway fair. In Shoffner’s case, the payer and payee were both party to the act. Bookout managed to turn money given legally into dirty money.

The temptation to misuse money that is within reach is powerful. We have seen lawyers and trustees go to prison, we’ve seen advertising and insurance agencies collapse — all because money that was obligated to one purpose was too easily diverted to another purpose. While we’re no longer surprised to learn of such human weakness — greed is hardly a recent development — we are still shocked and offended, especially when the violations come from those who set themselves up as worthy of public trust.

This publication has advocated higher pay for state legislators. But the taxpayers of Arkansas shouldn’t have to pay a penny to an embarrassment like Paul Bookout. He is worthy of praise only for his slightly belated resignation.