LITTLE ROCK — A veteran state senator spent thousands of dollars of campaign funds on personal purchases including a home surround sound system, the state Ethics Commission found following a hearing Friday.
The panel ordered Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, to pay an $8,000 fine for violating four state statutes — $2,000, the maximum possible fine, for each violation — and said it would issue him a letter of reprimand.
At the conclusion of an adjudication hearing Friday, the commission found that Bookout had used contributions to his 2012 re-election campaign for improper purposes including but not limited to:
—Depositing $18,200 into his personal bank account.
—Transferring $6,761.47 from the campaign to Bookout in the form of cash withdrawals.
—Spending $5,043.74 on women’s clothing and accessories at Steamroller Blues, a Jonesboro clothing store.
—Spending $8,4o2 on home theater equipment and installation from Sound Concepts in Jonesboro.
—Spending $1,306 on merchandise at the pro shop at RidgePointe County Club in Jonesboro.
The commission found that Bookout had violated state laws by taking campaign contributions as personal income, failing to maintain sufficient records of campaign expenditures, failing to itemize all expenditures over $100 on his campaign finance reports and failing to report the correct total of all his non-itemized expenditure reports.
The panel also ordered Bookout to file amended versions of his campaign finance reports and include itemization of all expenditures over $100 that he made with campaign funds. The new reports should itemize 97 expenditures totaling $10,658, the commission said.
The expenditures were from contributions to Bookout’s 2012 re-election campaign, in which he was unopposed.
Bookout said Friday that he accepted the commission’s decision and did not plan to appeal it. He said he was in the process of filing amended finance reports.
"I value the trust my campaign donors place in me with their political contributions. To that end, I will be reimbursing my campaign approximately $49,000, and then repaying contributors pro-rata over the next 30 days. This is not required by the Ethics Commission’s decision, but I feel it is the right thing to do, given the ruling of the Ethics Commission," he said.
"I am honored to serve the people of my district in the Arkansas Senate. I look forward to completing my final term in office focused on the issues facing our state," Bookout said.
The vote to sanction Bookout was 5-0. Ethics Commission Executive Director Graham Sloan said that as of Friday afternoon the commission had not directed its staff to refer the case to a prosecutor.
The commission began investigating Bookout’s campaign finance reports after receiving a complaint from Jonesboro resident Bob Hester.
Hester told the Arkansas News Bureau on Friday that he filed the complaint after reading Bookout’s finance reports online and seeing that he did not appear to have followed the law. He said he thought the commission was right to sanction Bookout and that there was "a cloud" over the senator.
"I think it would be good for the public if he would resign," Hester said.
David Ray, chairman of the state Republican Party, said in a statement Friday, "Today’s developments regarding Paul Bookout are shocking, alarming, and greatly disappointing. This represents a very serious breach of the public’s trust. It is sad that this type of behavior is all too common among Arkansas Democrats, who have controlled the state for the last 130 years."
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin said, "Sen. Bookout has a strong record of service in the Senate. It is my understanding he is reimbursing campaign donors over these issues with his campaign report. He can put this behind him and continue his service to the people of his community."
Bookout, 51, is administrative director for system relations at St. Bernards Healthcare in Jonesboro. He was first elected to the House in 1999 and was first elected to the Senate in a special election in 2006 after the death of his father, the late Sen. Jerry Bookout.