Ethics Commission hears report on possible mishandling of funds by Darr

LITTLE ROCK — An investigation by the staff of the state Ethics Commission has found evidence that Lt. Gov Mark Darr may have violated as many as 12 ethics laws and improperly spent more than $44,000 in campaign contributions and office funds, according to a blogger who filed a complaint against Darr.

Matt Campbell, a lawyer and creator of the liberal Blue Hog Report blog, talked to reporters Wednesday after attending a closed-door hearing in which the commission received a report on the investigation. The commissioners did not take final action in the case and could not talk to reporters about it because state law prohibits them from discussing pending matters.

Campbell said the commission’s staff found evidence that Darr had collected $3,500 in taxpayer dollars as improper travel reimbursements, improperly made $3,500 worth of personal expenditures with his state-issued credit card, improperly made $31,500 worth of personal expenditures with campaign contributions and collected $6,000 in campaign contributions that exceeded individual limits.

A legislative audit found this month that Darr owes the state more than $9,000 for unauthorized travel reimbursements. Campbell said the Ethics Commission’s staff acknowledged that it did not go over Darr’s expense reports with the same fine-tooth comb as state auditors.

Campbell said Darr did not contest the findings Wednesday.

“Mr. Darr made a statement, apologized to the people of Arkansas for his mistakes, thanked me for the report, quote, ‘regardless of the motivation,’ and said that he’s looking forward to reimbursing and just kind of moving forward in terms of transparency,” Campbell said.

Darr also attended the hearing. Afterward, while walking to a car with his attorney, Dan Greenberg, Darr declined to answer reporters’ questions about the case, saying. “We’re going to comment later.”

Darr said he did not plan to resign. He said he did not know whether he would seek re-election.

If the commission agrees with its staff that probable cause exists to find that Darr violated ethics laws — a likely outcome since Darr did not contest the report — it will give Darr an offer of settlement. If Darr accepts the offer, the case will be concluded and will become a matter of public record.

Darr could reject a settlement offer, in which case the commission would hold another hearing and then take final action.

Campbell said he believed that if the commission were to find that Darr committed ethics violations, “then I think resignation would be the proper step.”

He noted that former state Sen. Paul Bookout, a Democrat from Jonesboro, resigned from the Senate in August after the Ethics Commission fined him $8,000 for violating campaign finance laws.

Darr, a Republican who was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, announced Aug. 12 that he would seek the 4th District congressional seat now held by Republican Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor’s bid for a third term. Darr dropped out of the race 17 days later amid reports that the Ethics Commission was looking into his use of public money and campaign funds.

Campbell said he filed his complaint against Darr after looking at Darr’s credit card reports and campaign contribution reports and noticing discrepancies and “a whole lot of expenditures that didn’t look legit — fundraisers at gas stations, stuff like that.”

After Campbell filed his complaint, Darr said he had misunderstood campaign finance laws and filed an ethics complaint against himself.

William Bird of Little Rock, vice chairman of the Ethics Commission, is not participating in the case because he was appointed by Darr.