LITTLE ROCK — State auditors informed lawmakers Thursday they are conducting a scheduled audit of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s office and are aware of recent ethics questions raised about his use of campaign finances.
“We’re aware of the things that have been in the media,” Roger Norman, director of the state Bureau of Legislative Audit, said after a meeting of the executive committee Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
Norman said the regularly scheduled audit has been under way for several weeks but declined to discuss whether the audit had been expanded to encompass issues raised in an ethics complaint against the lieutenant governor.
The state Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint against Darr over his campaign finance reports.
In a 12-page letter dated Sept. 6, Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan advised lawyer and liberal blogger Matt Campbell that the commission is looking into a complaint Campbell submitted alleging Darr violated several violations of state ethics laws.
Darr did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.
During Thursday’s committee meeting, Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, co-chairman of the panel, asked Norman about the audit of the lieutenant governor’s office.
“It’s my understanding as a normal course of doing business that the lieutenant governor’s office is being audited, as is a regular occurrence and, as it’s being audited, if other things come to the surface we’ll be enlightened?” Hammer asked Norman.
“We are doing an audit on the lieutenant governor’s office,” Norman said, declining further comment.
Among other things, the complaint filed against Darr alleges that he 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 said last month 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 last month 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.
Sloan told Campbell in the letter that his complaint “meets the requirements” and that “accordingly, an investigation is being commenced.” He said the commission is seeking to determine whether Darr violated provisions of eight different state statutes.
Last month, former state Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro resigned from the Legislature after the Ethics Commission reprimanded him and fined him $8,000 after concluding he converted thousands of dollars in campaign funds from his unopposed 2012 re-election bid to personal use.
A special prosecutor is conducting a criminal investigation into Bookout’s campaign finances.