An Ethics Commission review continues of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s use of campaign money for expenses that appear to be personal in nature, including gas fillups on the road at spots between his home in Springdale and the Capitol in Little Rock. The Legislative Audit Division is also reviewing his office spending and legislators have been informed of reports that suggest Darr has charged travel expenses between home and office to his office expense account, sometimes on the same day as charges to his campaign account. State officials are not typically reimbursed for the distances they drive to reach the Capitol.
Darr has refused to respond to questions about that spending.
But he’s had some financial difficulties and one way to save money when work calls might be to get somebody else to provide the transportation. His appearance at the Capitol today in the company of a state trooper prompted a call to the State Police.
Spokesman Bill Sadler said: “A state trooper picked up the lieutenant governor at his residence in Northwest Arkansas and drove him to Little Rock. The trooper is still at the Capitol and will return the lieutenant governor to his residence later today.”
Sadler, in response to my question said, “We do not provide a commuting service.” But he said there have been “other assignments involving State Police personnel to transport him to and from events across the state.”
Sadler noted that, by statute, the State Police is obligated to provide security for the lieutenant governor and family as necessary. Decisions to provide Darr transportation, such as today, are made by the director of the State Police in conjunction with the executive protection unit, he said. Darr’s Twitter account indicated he participated today in a ceremony honoring a wildlife officer, Joel Campora, who died in a Scott County flood. It’s an appropriate event for a public official to attend, of course, but it doesn’t answer the question about the necessity of use of state resources for a 400-mile roundtrip Darr has driven himself.
I’ve asked for a record of how much the lieutenant governor has used State Police services, car or air, to travel around Arkansas, but particularly between home and office.
The Blue Hog Report, which discovered Darr’s practice of billing taxpayers periodically to get to and from work, has noted several occasions on which Darr billed the state at 42 cents a mile, or about $165, for roundtrips between Springdale and Little Rock. It’s a bargain, though, compared to the day’s pay for a state trooper and use of a state car. Blue Hog wonders if Darr has increased use of State Police “security” services since questions arose about his expense practices.
I’ve sought a comment from Darr’s office.
Lest you think I’m picking on Republicans, I should remind you when Dr. Johnny Rhoda, who was represented by Doyle Webb, the Arkansas GOP chair, sued over Democratic officials who seemed to be charging the state for commuting expenses by using state vehicles for the purpose. Their first request was that the court declare:
… the use of state owned vehicles by the Constitutional Officers of the Executive Department and the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives for any personal purpose, including commuting to and from their homes to their official offices, in violation of Amendment 70 to the Arkansas Constitution
The practice was eliminated as a result.
There’s some gray area in state official use of vehicles (such as to attend official functions), but the do-right rule applies. Most bosses don’t pay for the miles you have to drive to reach the office, particularly if it’s 190 miles away. Or provide a chauffeur.
UPDATE: A Facebook watcher who follows Darr said he posted this today about his amazing journey on one of his pages, though I can’t find it myself:
“On ride along with State Trooper today. I noticed a guy going wrong way on to the interstate. Trooper stopped the vehicle and it was an illegal husband and wife and would have hit a vehicle head on had the Trooper not reacted quickly. I’m very impressed with the Arkansas State Police. The Trooper said I’ve earned my plastic badge today and that I’m obviously tough on immigration.”