I chatted with Dan Greenberg, the Little Rock lawyer and former legislator who represented Lt. Gov. Mark Darr today in his closed-door meeting with the state Ethics Commission.
He agrees in the main with an account given by complainant Matt Campbell, who was also present, and with snatches of conversation overheard by reporters in the hallway outside the proceedings.
He said it was correct that Darr had “apologized for making some mistakes and intends to make restitution where appropriate.”
He said it was not technically accurate to say, as I have suggested, that the commission staff had found violations by Darr. It found evidence of possible violations. It will be up to the commission itself to make the definitive ruling. But Greenberg conceded it was “fair to anticipate” the commission would approach Darr with a proposed penalty for him to accept on the suggested violations.
Greenberg took exception, too, to the characterization of Darr spending $31,000 in campaign money on personal expenses, as part of $44,000 in enumerated questionable spending. “I would not put it that way,” he said. Rather, he said, it amounted to “mistakes in disclosure.” The theory is that Darr was raising money to pay off a campaign debt to himself. Personal expenses were just repayment of money “owed to him,” Greenberg said. Of course, that’s not how the accounting process is supposed to work. You raise money and pay just debts, not raise money and keep overage for yourself. As I’ve noted previously, Darr raised far more money to repay debt than was required and spent the excess on himself and family.
Greenberg said he was aware of no incident in which the staff found that Darr had billed campaign expenses for the same purpose he’d received taxpayer reimbursement, though both accounts appear to have been tapped for travel expenses on similar days.
But what of the larger issue — “mistakes” on both campaign and publicly financed taxpayer accounts? Shouldn’t this be punished? Said Greenberg: “He has said he apologizes. He takes repsonsibility and intends to cure those mistakes by such means as restitution and appropriate, more extensive disclosure.”
What, I asked, differentiates this case from that of resigned Sen. Paul Bookout, also found to have used campaign money for personal expenses? Greenberg declined to comment on other cases.
Greenberg’s mention of “intent” is probably worth noting. The Arkansas Constitution allows impeachment for “gross misconduct.” Someone so accused would undoubtedly argue that intent had to be a part of an impeachable offense. Of more pressing concern is whether a prosecutor does review Darr’s “mistakes,” and finds them statutory violations. Even misdemeanor charges involving misuse of public money would seem to put a public official at risk of disqualification under existing state Supreme Court precedent.
Darr has already told Legislative Audit he wasn’t aware of rules that prohibited him from charging taxpayers for his commuting expenses. He could make the same argument on his ethical reporting lapses as well, I suppose.
Too dumb to know better? It’s not a pretty legal defense for a man a heartbeat away from the governor’s office. Politically, it won’t be useful to his own Republican Party, which until now had been hoping to feast on several high-profile Democratic lawbreakers in campaign 2014.
UPDATE: Talk Business also got some comments from Darr himself. He’s not exactly abject and admits he raised more money than necessary to pay off debt, money he kept.
“No one wants to make a mistake in filling out reports obviously, I’m not throwing other people under the bus. I signed the reports, so it’s my campaign, my responsibility. But there were some errors on there,” he admitted.
Darr also said he expects he may owe his campaign money as he took more than the debt he was owed.
“I think I will. It’s not a whole lot of money but it’s still an error in calculation and reporting,” Darr said. He was not ready to disclose the total repayment as he wanted attorney Paul Dumas to review his amended reports, but he said the amount was “not exorbitant.”
Realy. What’s $50,000 — the Ethics tally plus the more complete audit tally — among friendly Republicans? Chump change for those guys. When Martha Shoffner put a thumb in her pie box it only pulled out $6,000.