Arkansas Governor Under Scrutiny: Audit Reveals Possible Legal Breach in $19,000 Lectern Purchase

When Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office bought a $19,000 lectern for the Republican governor, it may have broken state rules about buying things, state property, and government records, according to an audit released Monday by lawmakers. The purchase has drawn attention from across the country.

The long-awaited audit of the lectern was sent to local prosecutors and the attorney general by legislative auditors. On Tuesday, lawmakers were going to hold a meeting on the report. The report pointed out a number of possible legal violations, such as paying for the lectern before it was delivered and not keeping proper records about the buy.

Sanders’ office said the audit’s results were “deeply flawed” and a “waste of taxpayer resources and time.” They also said they wouldn’t answer questions about the lectern.

“No laws were broken,” her office said in a response that was sent with the story. Not a single trick was done.

Last year, lawmakers in Arkansas agreed to look into the request to review the purchase of the lectern, which had been looked at across the country because of how much it cost and questions about public records related to it.

A state credit card was used to buy the blue and wood-paneled stand from a Virginia events company in June for $19,029.25. The Republican Party of Arkansas paid back the state for the buy on September 14. Sanders’ office said that using the state credit card was an error in the books. The office of Sanders said it got the desk in August.

The things haven’t been seen at any of Sanders’ public events. Sanders put up a video on X (formerly Twitter) of the podium with the words “Come and Take It” soon after the audit came out late Monday afternoon.

Will Jones, the prosecutor for Pulaski County, said that his office had gotten the audit and would look it over. However, he wouldn’t say anything else.

In the report, auditors said they couldn’t say for sure if the price of the desk was fair. The report said that the three out-of-state companies that helped buy the lectern did not reply to many requests from auditors for information about it.

The office of Sanders and the inspectors disagreed on whether the governor and other constitutional officers have to follow the rules about buying things and owning property that she is accused of breaking. It was found that the governor’s office did follow the steps set out in state law for departments that want to get rid of state property.

A report from the Arkansas Legislative Audit says that the podium and road case are still state property.

In response, Sanders’ office said that the rules that were brought up about buying things and property only apply to state agencies, not constitutional officers. The same point was made in a legal ruling that wasn’t binding and was sent to Sanders by Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin last week.

The purchase of the lectern came to light last year at the same time that Sanders was urging lawmakers to make it harder for the public to see records about her office. Sanders finally signed a bill that won’t let her travel and security records be made public after media groups and some conservatives pushed back against wider exemptions.

The buy was first found by Matt Campbell, a lawyer and blogger who has a long history of open records requests that have shown corrupt spending and other wrongdoing by politicians.

According to the report, Sanders’ office may have broken the law when they added the words “to be reimbursed” to the original bill for the lectern after the state GOP had already paid for it in September. While Sanders’ office disagreed with that finding, they said that writing notes by hand on invoices is “a common bookkeeping practice.”

The report also said that when a member of Sanders’ staff shredded a shipping document for the lectern, the office may have broken the law. When Sanders’ office found out that the document, called a “bill of lading,” had been lost, they gave it to the inspectors right away.

The lectern was bought from Beckett Events LLC, a business in Virginia run by Virginia Beckett, a political adviser and lobbyist. A breakdown from Beckett Events that was part of the report showed that the total cost was $11,575 for the lectern, $2,500 for a “consulting fee,” and $2,200 for the road case. Shipping, delivery, and a credit card handling fee were also added to the price.

Online, you can find similar lecterns for $7,500 or less. Sanders has said that the one the state bought cost more because it had extra options, like a custom height. The report said that the lectern had a light but no microphone or other electronic parts. The report said that auditors looked at and measured the podium at the state GOP offices.

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