Arkansas Lawmakers Plan Refresher Course on Ethics

ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – With an ex-lawmaker under investigation for his campaign spending money on personal items and the state's lieutenant governor facing questions about his campaign finance reports, Arkansas lawmakers are about to receive a refresher course on the state's ethics laws.

House and Senate leaders on Tuesday said they're planning a seminar for members of both chambers to brush up on the state's campaign finance and ethics laws at the state Capitol. The Sept. 26 session is aimed at answering questions lawmakers may have had since adjourning this year's legislative session.

"I think we just want to make sure people are aware of the pitfalls that are out there, know what the rules say and don't let custom dictate what they do but make sure the law dictates what they do," Senate President Michael Lamoureux said.

The event is being held after Democratic Sen. Paul Bookout resigned his seat over the state Ethics Commission's ruling that he spent thousands of campaign dollars illegally on clothing, home theater equipment and other personal items. A special prosecutor has been appointed to determine whether Bookout, who was fined $8,000 and reprimanded by the commission, should face any charges.

It also comes as Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr faces questions over reporting hundreds of dollars spent at restaurants and gas stations shortly after taking office as fundraising expenses. Darr has filed an ethics complaint against himself and said he plans to amend his campaign finance reports to classify the spending as repayment of debts his campaign owed him.

Matt Campbell, the attorney and blogger who first questioned the spending, has filed a separate complaint against Darr over the spending and other issues.

Lamoureux said House Speaker Davy Carter came up with the idea of a seminar on ethics, similar to one that's given to freshmen lawmakers before the start of the regular legislative session. The House and Senate return for a session focused primarily on the state's budget in February.

House Chief of Staff Gabe Holmstrom said some House members had said they were interested in a refresher after the Legislature adjourned its session in May.

"There had been talk especially right after the session ended about doing another type of continuing education and that's really what we're billing this as," Holmstrom said.

Holmstrom said the afternoon long seminar will also include primers on the reimbursement rules for lawmakers. It will include officials with the Bureau of Legislative Research and the Ethics Commission.

Bookout's resignation and the questions over Darr's reports have prompted some lawmakers to call for a re-examination of the state's ethics laws. House Democrats on Monday announced they were creating a committee to look at ethics legislation.

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