LITTLE ROCK — Former state Sen. Paul Bookout told the staff of the state Ethics Commission in June that he could confidently defend as legitimate campaign expenses only about $14,000 out of $63,000 in campaign funds that he spent in the 2012 election cycle, newly released documents show.
A report on Bookout by the commission’s staff, released Wednesday, also shows that those $14,000 in expenditures that the Jonesboro Democrat claimed he could justify included a $4,000 donation to the state Democratic Party that the commission’s staff said appeared to violate ethics laws.
Bookout did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Bookout resigned from the Legislature on Aug. 20, four days after the Ethics Commission fined him $8,000 and reprimanded him for converting thousands of dollars in political contributions to his personal use. The commission said then that Bookout improperly used campaign cash — collected for a race in which he was unopposed — to buy items such as women’s clothing, golfing equipment and a home theater system.
The report states that in a June 19 interview with the commission’s staff, Bookout was asked about his failure to itemize numerous expenditures over $100, as required by law, and his failure to provide investigators with invoices and receipts to document the expenditures.
Bookout said he was "too casual" in his bookkeeping and used "poor judgment," according to the report. He said that without having kept the proper documentation, he could not confidently defend most of his expenditures, although he believed in his heart that all $63,000 of his expenditures were legitimately related to his campaign, the report said.
The expenditures that Bookout said he could defend included $4,500 to the state Democratic Party for his filing fee; $575 to St. Bernard’s Foundation for a fundraising event, $3,889 to the Ridgepointe Country Club for a fundraising event, $1,000 to the Democratic Party for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner and $4,000 to the Democratic Party as a donation dated Oct. 16.
The report notes, however, that under Arkansas law, a candidate may donate campaign funds to a political party before a general election only if he or she files an affidavit agreeing not to solicit any more campaign contributions, which Bookout did not do.
The commission’s staff concluded that there was probable cause to find that Bookout violated several ethics law, a finding that the commission reached last month in a hearing. The staff also noted that Bookout was "very cooperative during the investigation."
Jack McQuary, a special conflict prosecutor in the state Prosecutor Coordinator’s Office, was named to investigate Bookout’s campaign finances after Craighead County Prosecutor Scott Ellington recused, citing personal and professional conflicts. McQuary said Wednesday the investigation is continuing.
"State police are gathering all the information because while the Ethics Commission investigation is helpful, it’s probably not as thorough as a criminal investigation," he said.
Gov. Mike Beebe has set a Jan. 14 special election to fill Bookout’s seat.
Arkansas News Bureau reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.