Early Thursday, not too long after morning newspaper readers learned that a “refresher course” on campaign finance laws and state ethics laws is scheduled for legislators in September, they learned also that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has stepped out of the race for the 4th Congressional District seat.
The first-term lieutenant governor said he was exiting the race because of his family.
“I feel that my priority needs to be focused on my family, and sometimes trying to achieve titles gets in the way of that,” Lt. Gov. Darr said in a statement.
The Mansfield native entered the race Aug. 12, but less than two weeks later, he announced he was filing an ethics complaint against himself over hundreds of dollars his campaign spent at gas stations and restaurants shortly after he took office that were classified as fundraising expenses, The Associated Press reported.
At that time he accepted responsibility for the errors and said he would accept any penalties levied by the ethics board. Darr, a Republican, explained the errors this way: “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. As such, there were some mistakes made, and I am working hard to correct each and every one of them.”
Three days earlier, state Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, resigned his position in the Legislature after a special prosecutor was named to investigate his campaign finances following a state Ethics Commission fine and reprimand for converting thousands of dollars in political contributions to his personal use, according to an Arkansas News Bureau report. What kind of personal use? Women’s clothing, golf equipment and an $8,000 home entertainment system.
Bookout also resigned from his day job as administrative director for St. Bernard’s Hospital in Jonesboro, and he was fined $2,000 apiece for four ethics violations.
In May, former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner resigned after appearing in federal court to face an extortion charge. Shoffner, a Democrat, is accused of taking at least $36,000 in kickbacks, delivered covertly in a pie box.
In all, it’s been a messy few months for state government.
So it is well that Sen. Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux announced Monday that the ethics refresher is coming soon. Officials with the Ethics Commission and the Bureau of Legislative Research will address state laws and answer questions Sept. 26.
Lamoureux explains: “I think as there has been more discussion about what is allowable and what is not allowable publicly, and people try to make sure their own business is squared away. It just kind of occurred to us that members don’t have exact clarity on what the rules are. … We probably need to start from square one and go back over everything.”
An orientation for legislators before the 2013 session covered several issues, and time spent on campaign finance rules and ethics laws was “brief,” he said.
No doubt campaign finance reports are complicated, and there may be legitimate questions about what is and is not acceptable and legal when it comes to spending money left in the war chest after the election.
But it’s never been OK to accept cash in a pie box for doing your job in a way that serves a benefactor while harming the people of Arkansas.
And it’s never been OK to to take leftover money and spend it on golf clubs and stereos.
So by all means, let’s do some training sooner instead of later. But let’s not pretend it’s terribly difficult to know the difference between what’s right and wrong.
Start with this question: If my actions landed on the front page of tomorrow’s paper, would I have to quit my job? If the answer is yes, chances are the actions you’re considering are wrong.
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Editor’s note: This editorial was originally published in Times Record at Fort Smith.