I got a heads-up last night that Stephens Media was set to break this story about Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson:
His former girlfriend, Julie McGee, went to Stephens with copies of two checks written on Hutchinson’s campaign account in 2010 that paid her a total of $2,700. These checks were not reported as campaign expenditures. She contends he paid her the money as living expenses, off the books. This would violate the ethics law, it probably goes without saying. Hutchinson said the checks were forgeries and done unknown to him. Hutchinson told me that he self-reported this finding to the state Ethics Commission and plans to repay the money to the campaign. He expects some sort of disciplinary action for the inaccurate reporting, but depicts himself as a victim of McGee’s use of him for financial support.
Their relationship soured in late summer of this year and Hutchinson broke up with her. Troubles emerged when he began saying she needed to move from the River Market condo that he had rented for her. (I wrote erroneously originally that they shared that condo. He always maintained a separate home in from a Chenal Valley apartment.)
McGee was charged with battery after an argument with Hutchinson Sept. 4 at the Chenal Valley home in which he said she hit him with the head of a stuffed alligator. She has spoken to numerous news outlets, including the Arkansas Times, about her unhappiness that Hutchinson had not followed through on what she said were commitments to support her. The 2010 payments were made to McGee at a time when Hutchinson’s marriage was on the shoals. Hutchinson said his wife had previously managed his campaign accounts. He told me she she was no longer involved at the end of the 2010 Senate campaign. Their marriage split irreconcilably in early 2011. As a result, he said, financial accounts were among the things in his life that were in disarray at that time. He made clear, however, that he was responsible for the campaign documents and, thus, ultimately any improper or unreported payments made from that account. I’ve also received word that Hutchinson’s wife will say she never handled any campaign finances.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE:
Stephanie Hutchinson, the senator’s former wife, sent me this comment this afternoon:
I handled all of Jeremy’s campaign finances during his previous campaigns for the House. One of the stipulations to my agreeing to let him run for the state senate, however, was that I would not be involved in the campaign finances this go around. So, no, I had no involvement in any campaign finances and we did not separate until late January 2011 and I did not learn about an affair until February 2011, well after the checks were deposited. I will say, however, that without a doubt those deposited checks were forged. After 15 years, I know the very distinct way in which he signs his name and those are without a doubt very obvious forgeries.
McGee had hinted at financial improprieties in talks with the Times, but offered no specifics. It’s unknown if she mentioned the most recent allegation in an earlier effort to get the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to write a story on another aspect of her relationship with Hutchinson. Her talks with the D-G became widely discussed in Republican circles, but the D-G never published an article.
Hutchinson admits also in the Stephens article that he made cash payments to McGee for legitimate campaign work (clearing out an office is an example he gave me), but insists he paid her with personal funds, not campaign money. Her campaigning generally was voluntary, he says. Hutchinson’s depiction of McGee as scheming against him is supported to some degree in the Stephens account by her sister.
This may be sorted out in court or other venue. In addition to the trial that pends for McGee on the battery charge and fallout from the competing stories on the campaign checks, Hutchinson filed a complaint with police over damage done to the condo in the River Market Tower after she was forced to move out. He says that case is under review by the prosecuting attorney’s office.
What’s not much in question is Hutchinson’s judgment — and not only his decision to form a relationship with McGee in the first place. From the Stephens article:
A no-contact order was issued against McGee after the fight with Hutchinson in September, but she and Hutchinson both admitted they have had contact since then.
Hutchinson said the two usually do not get along, “but then she is sweet and apologizes and is so hurt and does this routine that makes me feel sorry, and I remember a girl I did fall in love with and I have feelings for her, like an idiot, and I respond.”
McGee said she just wants Hutchinson to “leave me alone,” but a few minutes later she sent him a text message.
Hutchinson tells me that there’s been no personal contact since the fight, though McGee has texted him and he has responded asking her to stop. He said their on-again, off-again personal contact described in the article was before the altercation, in 2011.
Note: This article has undergone several revisions during the day as I’ve talked with involved parties.