LITTLE ROCK — Lt. Gov. Mark Darr owes the state more than $9,000 for unauthorized travel reimbursements, according to a state audit report lawmakers reviewed Thursday.
Auditors recommended in the report that the lieutenant governor and his staff be trained in proper use of state funds and in complying with federal income tax laws.
Talking to reporters after appearing before the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, Darr apologized “for my mistakes I made or my office made” and said he would repay the money.
The audit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year found that Darr was reimbursed $9,836 in travel expenses for trips from his home in Springdale to work in Little Rock. Deputy State Auditor Jon Moore said state law prohibits constitutional officers from receiving travel reimbursements from their homes to the state Capitol.
The lieutenant governor failed to claim the income for federal income tax purposes, auditors said.
The audit also found Darr charged $2,339 in personal expenses on a state credit card. He later reimbursed the state $1,202. Moore told the committee Darr wrote a second check of $1,137 to reimburse the rest and gave it to the state auditor’s office. The check cannot be found, though Darr and the auditor’s office both have copies of the check showing it was written.
Deputy Chief State Auditor Peggy Gram said Thursday her office received Darr’s check and sent it to US Bank for processing.
“It obviously came up missing. However, we don’t show any balance on (Darr’s) account, so our view differs from Legislative Audit’s on whether the money is still owed,” she said.
According to the report, Darr’s unauthorized travel reimbursements included $164 he passed on to a former employee for a ride home from Little Rock, $169 for car mileage in excess of the cost of coach class air fare and $205 for two nights of lodging in Little Rock. State regulations do not allow for payment of lodging expense within the “official station,” auditors said.
Darr, a Republican, declined to give an opening statement before the largely GOP committee after the audit was presented, and members asked few questions. Only after being asked by Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, did Moore tell the panel that the audit had been referred to Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley.
Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, said he was surprised to learn that constitutional officers did not receive travel expenses from their homes to the state Capitol like legislators.
“The rules are different for legislators as opposed to constitutional offices,” Roger Norman, director of the state Division of Legislative Audit, told Meeks.”The Constitution says that … his office is at the seat of government. For legislators, the IRS allows your home to be counted as your official station.”
Meeks also questioned why the lieutenant governor is not provided lodging in Little Rock, noting that the governor has the Governor’s Mansion and the secretary of state has a room at the Capitol Hill Apartments. Secretary of State Mark Martin pays $320 per month at his apartment across from the Capitol, a spokesman said.
“If we elect a lieutenant governor (who lives) at the edge of the state, how is that germane that we don’t provide lodging or something if he’s got to be here in Little Rock?” Meeks said.
Moore said state law specifically says constitutional officers can only claim lodging reimbursements if they are staying somewhere other than their “official station” and that is Little Rock.
Meeks suggested the lodging and travel requirements for constitutional officers “might be something we need to look at going forward.”
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, asked Darr about the audit’s recommendation for additional training and the lieutenant governor said that had already been done.
“We’re fully aware now, after this process, that the seat of government is in Little Rock and that applies to me,” he said.
The state Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint against Darr over his campaign finance reports.
The complaint, filed by lawyer and liberal blogger Matt Campbell, alleges that Darr improperly spent thousands of dollars of campaign money after his November 2010 election for purposes other than debt reduction, including hotel rooms, airline tickets, flowers, fuel, clothing, Razorback season tickets and meals at restaurants.
Darr reported the season tickets and a number of other expenditures as “debt-reduction fundraisers” but did not report that his campaign received any contributions in connection with the “fundraisers,” according to the complaint.
Darr has said previously that he intended the expenditures as repayments to himself for loans he made to his campaign and was unaware that state law does not allow campaign loans to be repaid in that fashion. He has filed an ethics complaint against himself and has said he is working to bring his filings into compliance with state law.
Darr dropped out of the 4th District congressional race in August after Campbell raised questions about Darr’s campaign expenditure filings on the Blue Hog Report blog. The lieutenant governor has not said whether he will seek re-election next year.
The complaint also alleges that Darr used his state-issued credit card and fuel card for purchases such as airline tickets and fuel, which he reported as campaign expenditures, violating a state law against using a state-issued credit card for campaign activities, and that he failed to disclose information he was required to disclose in his campaign finance reports.