The state Ethics Commission released today its investigative file on the case that led to multiple findings of ethics violations by former Sen. Paul Bookout of Jonesboro in handling of money in his last unopposed campaign for state Senate. The findings prompted his resignation and a special prosecutor is now reviewing the violations for possible criminal charges.
The report indicates that of $63,000 in reported spending, Bookout could identify only $13,964 as legitimate campaign expenses. But the Ethics staff said $4,000 of that — a contribution to the Arkansas Democratic Party — wasn’t a proper expenditure either. The Ethics Commission only looked at one campaign. But Jonesboro Sun columnist Roy Ockert noted recently that Bookout had spent, in sum, more than $267,000 in all his six unopposed campaigns for legislature. It’s an ugly and detailed picture. Note the difference in hand on the copies of checks written out of the campaign account. Some appear to have different handwriting on the payee line from Bookout’s signature. One check, to a woman’s clothing store, appears to have been signed by someone other than Bookout himself. The documents detail an offer of settlement that Bookout rejected. It required him to admit improper expenditures, an admission that wouldn’t have been in his interest if any prosecutorial review resulted, which it did.
It’s been reported before that Bookout spent money on alcohol, dining, country club expenses, a home stereo, women’s clothing and cash withdrawals, all seemingly prohibited personal expenses. Similar accusations are under review by the state Ethics Commission against Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who has acknowledged “errors” in his campaign filing and dropped out of a race for Congress since Blue Hog Report dug them up. Darr has been staying out of the public eye — except for periodic Twitter calls for prayer in times of tragedy such as the Navy Yard shootings or the 9/11 anniversary. He has refused to answer questions about his campaign spending or Blue Hog’s discovery that Darr apparently billed both the campaign and taxpayers through his office expense account for the same travel. As yet, no special prosecutor has been appointed. As yet, no state Republican official has criticized Darr or called for his resignation.
SPEAKING OF ETHICS: The subject reminds me that there are some members of the legislature who’d like to see stricter laws to curb the Paul Bookouts of the world. It’s heartening to hear, too, that both Democrats and Republicans are involved in some of the discussions. I’m hearing high interest in ending the “ticketed events” scam. Both parties have used it, but Republicans perfected it. It’s a gimmick to avoid a clear Ethics Commission rule that should prevent use of campaign money for contributions to other campaigns. I don’t know if the legislature will move to totally end the campaign carryover money that Bookout and others have abused. But there is interest in stopping fund-raising at the filing deadline for unopposed candidates and to prevent carryovers for term-limited candidates. The prohibition of corporate contributions faces a stiff fight, but I’d like to see another effort to at least close the loophole that lets a real estate tycoon like Jim Lindsey give multiple contributions to the same candidate from different corporate entities he controls as a way around contribution limits.