The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning (pay wall) that Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock had settled his self-reported campaign finance violation with the state Ethics Commision. He got a $500 fine and a warning letter, but no criminal prosecution, for the unreported expenditure of at least $2,700 in campaign money on his former girlfriend, Julie McGee. You can’t use campaign money to support a mistress, it should go without saying.
McGee pretty well predicted this outcome to me weeks ago. By self-reporting and admitting improper actions, Hutchinson short-circuited an in-depth examination of his campaign spending. It narrowed the focus to $2,700 directly linked to McGee’s bank account. He says he did not “authorize” the checks.
Absent from the D-G account is an answer to this question: Did the Ethics Commission talk to Julie McGee about this matter and do a full review of Hutchinson campaign expenditures? Or did it simply take Jeremy Hutchinson’s word for the core events and buy his story that McGee improperly obtained campaign checks and forged them? She has said he was fully complicit with this and other misuse of campaign resources.
McGee is itching to talk at length about her long and stormy relationship with Hutchinson, which ranges from the police report of her alleged assault of him with a stuffed alligator head to the eviction of her from a River Market condo love nest amid disputes over property in the condo and damage to the premises. Her credibility is not high, having been challenged by, among others, a close relative in various media looks at her time with Hutchinson. McGee has compiled a voluminous record of her time with Hutchinson in phone text and photographs. It is replete with allegations about how Hutchinson managed to support their lifestyle while also supporting a former wife and children. You can see why a full discussion of that in an adversarial proceeding would have been a less desirable option for Hutchinson than surrendering to a quick slap on the wrist by the Ethics Commission and a declaration by him that the subject was closed.
Full disclosure or no, the episode nonetheless delivers a political blow to Hutchinson, who had dreams of higher office in 2014.
Media side note: Stephens Media did groundbreaking reporting on the Hutchinson misdeeds. It was the first to report diversion of campaign money to McGee. The Democrat-Gazette got the break on the resolution of the matter. That might simply be good followup work by the hardworking and comprehensive D-G Capitol bureau. But you have to wonder if Hutchinson gave a headsup to the D-G to build at least a touch of goodwill with the state’s largest and most influential news outlet. He’s a politician who’s definitely in need of some.
UPDATE: Here’s the probable cause finding and the letter of warning. This is the only part of the case currently open to the public. 30 days after Hutchinson agreed to the deal, meaning Jan. 28, the investigation on which the probable cause finding was issued will be open to public inspection. We’ll know then how deeply his spending and reporting was reviewed. But the documents released so far indicate that they looked only at the two checks Hutchinson self-reported. Did it occur to anyone that these might not have been the only two “oversights” of which the campaign was guilty?