LITTLE ROCK – Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr said Thursday that he’s dropping out of the race for a seat representing south Arkansas in Congress amid ethics questions over his campaign finance reports.
The decision came less than three weeks after Darr announced he was seeking the 4th District seat, hoping to replace incumbent Tom Cotton. Cotton, a Republican, is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor next year.
“After careful thought and deliberation I will not be seeking the 4th District position in the United States Congress,” Darr said in a prepared statement. “I feel that my priority needs to be focused on my family and sometimes trying to achieve titles gets in the way of that.”
Darr faces questions shortly after taking office when he reported hundreds of dollars spent at restaurants and gas stations as fundraising expenses. Darr filed an ethics complaint against himself and said he planned to amend his campaign finance reports to classify the spending as repayment of debts that his campaign owed him.
State House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman and Hot Springs businessman Tommy Moll are seeking the Republican nomination for the seat, while Hot Springs community college instructor Janis Percefull is running for the Democratic nomination.
Darr reported the errors shortly after a website raised questions about the expenses that didn’t appear to be related to raising money to pay off the loan he made for his successful 2010 bid for the lieutenant governor’s office. Darr said he was filing amended reports and was prepared to accept any penalties from the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
He didn’t mention the ethics questions in his statement Thursday, and declined to answer questions. He indicated that he would not resign over the questions, and didn’t say whether he would endorse anyone in the congressional race.
“I look forward to serving out my current term as lieutenant governor and helping my friends get elected or re-elected should they desire my assistance,” Darr said.
“As this was my first race for public office, the ins and outs of campaign finance reporting were new to both me and my campaign staff,” Darr said in a prepared statement last week. “As such, there were some mistakes made, and I am working hard to correct each and every one of them.”
Darr filed the complaint days after the Blue Hog Report, a Democrat-leaning blog, detailed hundreds of dollars Darr reported spending in campaign funds, including $1,500 on Arkansas Razorbacks football tickets. Matt Campbell, the lawyer who runs the site, has filed a separate complaint against Darr over the spending and several other potential ethics violations.
Darr is the latest public official in Arkansas to come under scrutiny for ethics issues. Democratic Sen. Paul Bookout resigned last week after the state Ethics Commission said he spent thousands of campaign dollars on clothing, home theater equipment and other personal items. The panel reprimanded Bookout and fined him $8,000. A special prosecutor has been appointed to see whether Bookout should face any charges.
Darr launched his campaign Aug. 12 with a promise to fight the federal health care law in Congress, taking a swipe at Westerman for his handling of debate in the Legislature on expanding insurance coverage. Westerman questioned Darr’s experience, pointing out he had served in a mostly ceremonial role as lieutenant governor.
Darr was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, when Republicans won three of the state’s seven constitutional offices. He pushed for the creation of an “online checkbook” where Arkansans could look up information about state spending.
He clashed earlier this year with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe after Darr signed a law while the governor was out of state making secret the names of Arkansans allowed to carry concealed handguns. Beebe later criticized Darr for the move.
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