Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ kickoff party for the Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football season cost over $13,000, according to public records obtained by the Arkansas Times.
Sanders’ party – unironically dubbed the “Undefeated Party” – took place at the Governor’s Mansion on Sept. 1, the night before Arkansas’s football season officially started at War Memorial Stadium. The invitation-only soiree boasted head Hog Sam Pittman, three mascots in full costume, the University of Arkansas cheerleaders and dance team, and members of the brass section of the school band.
According to records provided by the Department of Transformation & Shared Services, the Governor’s Mansion Commission shelled out at least $13,081.36 for this party. (The Governor’s Mansion Commission is a publicly funded department of the State of Arkansas.) This price tag includes:
- $1,429.22 in gingham-checked tablecloths, purchased from Amazon. You can see one of the tablecloths in the background of this photo that Sanders posted;
- $812.50 in bamboo plates of various sizes and white and red-and-white pompoms;
- $778.50 in flowers, candles and tablescapes from Tanarah Luxe Floral;
- $760 in additional help;
- $733.25 for 2.5 hours of a photo booth;
- $600 for a DJ;
- $500 for balloons from Brooksie Balloons;
- $434.91 for rental of lighted letters spelling out GO HOGS;
- $210 for giant inflatable footballs for decoration;
- $124.92 for 24 junior-size footballs from Five Below.
Also of note in the party’s expense tally: $449.88 to Jennifer Bethel for 600 buttons, half of which said “WPS+SHS” while the other half said “Best Coach, Best Gov, Best State.” Bethel is also the vendor from whom Sanders purchased nearly $2,400 in personalized shirts and $1,000 in personalized jackets earlier in the year. Bethel appears to be an Area Sales Manager at Dillard’s Inc., with a degree in Art History, rather than someone who runs any kind of actual design/printing business.
By far the largest expenditure for Sanders’ event, however, was food. Nearly $4,500 in food was ordered from Ben E. Keith between Aug. 25 ($1,399.44) and Aug. 29 ($3,086.09). These orders included $203 in soft pretzel sticks, $242 in cheese dip, $362 in pre-made sliders on buns, and $439 on disposable cutlery. The pretzel sticks from the Aug. 29 order are even visible on Sanders’s Instagram.
Mansion staff ordered an additional $1,031.88 worth of goods from Sysco, which included coffee, dessert toppings, assorted fruit, spices, spoons and herbs. Another $297.86 went to an unidentified vendor for salsa ($55.78) and miscellaneous micro greens and other last-minute vegetables ($242.08).
Throw in $121.38 in trash bags, $159.64 in pizza for the folks who worked all day and evening to make the party happen and $78.85 to rent a cart, plus a few odds and ends like $60 for red napkins, and it is easy to see how the total for this party quickly climbed north of $13,000. (Receipts and records provided also did not list any alcohol purchases, though it is unclear from the few photos posted of the event whether any alcohol was served.)
As for the game, Arkansas defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts 56-13, though the on-field performance was largely overshadowed by ticketing issues, lack of available water for fans in 90-degree heat, and pre-game boos for Sanders and her husband.
Ironically, if somewhat predictably, the whole “Undefeated” party theme and the “Best Gov/Best Coach” buttons would not age well. Lecterngate was in full swing by Sept. 15, while Arkansas lost the first of six straight games on Sept. 16. That is hardly an outcome that would justify spending $13,000+ of other people’s money.