Jan. 14 special election set for vacant Senate seat


LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday set a Jan. 14 special election to replace a former state senator who resigned while under investigation for spending his campaign money on personal items.

Also Wednesday, legislative leaders said a refresher course on campaign finance laws and state ethics laws is planned for legislators on Sept.26.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said the refresher course has been in the works for a while, adding that it is purely coincidental that it was announced so close to the resignation of Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, and questions about the lieutenant governor’s campaign finance reports.

Bookout resigned earlier this month after the state Ethics Commission concluded that he converted thousands of dollars of campaign funds to personal use, including purchases of women’s clothing, golfing equipment and an $8,000 home entertainment system. The funds were from his 2012 re-election campaign, in which he was unopposed.

Bookout, who was fined $8,000 for violating four state statutes — the maximum $2,000 fine for each violation — resigned the day after a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate his campaign finances.

Five Jonesboro residents have announced for Bookout’s District 21 seat.

Candidates for the seat include Republicans John Cooper, Chad Niell and Dan Sullivan and Democrats Steve Rockwell and former state Sen. Gene Roebuck.

The governor on Wednesday set Oct. 8 as the date of the Democratic and Republican primaries for the seat.

Candidates must file for between noon Sept. 3 and noon Sept. 6.

Darr, a Republican, is facing questions over reporting of hundreds of dollars of expenditures at restaurants and gas stations not long after he took office.

Darr has filed an ethics complaint against himself and said last week he plans to correct his campaign finance reports to reclassify those expenses as debt reduction payments.

Lamoureux said Wednesday that a number of legislators have told him since the end of the session in May that it would be beneficial for them to have additional instruction on the state’s campaign finance laws and ethics laws.

In 2014, all 100 House seats are on the ballot and 18 of the 35 senators are up for re-election. Campaigning has already begun in many of those races.

“I think as there has been more discussion about what is allowable and what is not allowable publicly, and people try to make sure their own business is squared away, it just kind of occurred to us that members don’t have exact clarity on what the rules are,” Lamoureux said.

“Before somebody gets in trouble for doing what they thought they could do we probably need to start from square one and go back over everything” he said.

Orientation for legislators before the 2013 session covered several issues, including bill drafting and parliamentary procedure, and that the time spent on campaign finance laws and ethics laws was “brief,” Lamoureux said.

“A lot of time what we end up doing is sort of behaving according to custom … and it’s time to make sure that custom matches up with the rules,” he said.

Beebe said Wednesday that an ethics refresher course “is always good,” though he said it was hard to believe that any elected official would be unaware that personal use of campaign money was forbidden.

“That’s never been allowed. That’s not confusing,” he said.

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Arkansas News Bureau reporter John Lyon and columnist Roby Brock contributed to this report.