If you are the type of person who follows such things — or if you have even the most tangential social-media relationship with me — you’ve likely already heard about Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s acceptance of the settlement offer proposed by the Arkansas Ethics Commission. Long story short, Darr was fined $1,000 for each of 11 violations found by the Commission, with all $11,000 payable within thirty (30) days; he received a public letter of reprimand; and he has to file amended CC&E reports (and a third-quarter 2013 CC&E that he never bothered to file) within ten (10) days. Here’s the settlement letter bearing his John Hancock Schnatter.
That all is what it is. Overall, I think $11,000, which is the largest aggregate fine ever imposed by the Ethics Commission1, is a fair enough total for someone who admitted from the jump that he’d screwed up. I have no problem with that amount.
Again, however, I think it is fair to distinguish between these mistakes and intentionally taking money that was not mine. I do not believe I ever intentionally took money that was not owed to me.
You see, way back in the halcyon days of May 2011, I was pointing out that, lo and behold, the perpetually ethically challenged Mark Martin was using state gas cards for personal commutes to and from NW Arkansas.3 Not long after that story — about two weeks, in fact — Mark Darr suddenly felt like he should reimburse the state for his January 2011 through May 2011 use of state gas cards for personal miles.
From June 2011 through April 2012, Darr charged his campaign for gas for his commute. Those were the “fundraisers” at gas stations in Ola, AR, that we all laughed at back in August of this year.
In April and early May 2012, however, according to Lt. Gov. staffer Amber Pool, Darr used his state credit card “out of error” for gas purchases to the tune of $436.14. He sent a personal check to repay that amount.
So…between the June 1, 2011 check and the June 6, 2012 check, that’s twice that Mark Darr demonstrated awareness that using state credit cards for gas for his personal commute was improper, right?
Yet, even after that June 6, 2012 check, Darr continued to use the state credit cards for exactly that purpose until August 2012. He rang up $1,136.62 in fuel charges on the state card…in June 2012 alone (i.e. after he’d just admitted on June 6 that he knew he should not be doing that). He put another $393.97 on the cards for gas between July 20 and August 9, 2012. And he didn’t even bother to repay that money until December 2012.
Maybe you can chalk the expenditures of campaign funds up to sheer stupidity (not knowing what was and was not allowable and not knowing that he could call the Ethics Commission ahead of time to find out that answer). Maybe you can wipe away some of the violations under the guise of sloppy record-keeping and no attempt to figure out how to do things correctly.
But the use of state cards for gas? By his own admission, he knew that was improper as far back as June 1, 2011. Then he kept doing it. For months.
And that’s really the rub. Being too stupid or too unconcerned with the law to run a campaign correctly is one thing. Misconstruing what you did with state funds, even as you ostensibly accept your punishment for doing it, is another. The former just makes us all embarrassed for having you as an elected official; the latter makes you a liar.