Audit Questions Purchase of $19,000 Lectern by Arkansas Governor’s Office

Legislative auditors in Arkansas found that the purchase last year of a $19,000 lectern by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s office potentially violated state laws, according to a report released on Monday.

But the findings may be moot after the state attorney general, Tim Griffin, said last week that state purchasing laws do not apply to the governor or other executive branch officials.

Ms. Sanders, a Republican, faced sharp scrutiny for the purchase, even from members of her own party. But on Monday, she appeared eager to fling away those attacks, posting a video montage seemingly mocking the lectern controversy on social media, complete with hype music and dramatic edits.

Her office described the report as “deeply flawed” and said that “no laws were broken.”

The potential violations found by the audit include shredding a document that should have been preserved and mishandling the purchase process. The legislative auditors said that their report would be forwarded to the Sixth Judicial District prosecuting attorney and to Mr. Griffin’s office.

State lawmakers approved the audit last year after it was revealed that the governor’s office had purchased the lectern and an accompanying traveling case in June, using a state-issued credit card to pay $19,029.25 to Beckett Events L.L.C., an event management company with ties to Ms. Sanders.

Matthew Campbell, a lawyer and blogger who had filed a broad public records request, was the first to obtain the information.

The Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the lectern with a $19,029.25 check dated Sept. 14, three months after the purchase. The reimbursement, according to Mr. Campbell, occurred several days after he had filed the Freedom of Information Act request for the records and a day before he received the state’s response.

In late September, an anonymous whistle-blower claimed that Ms. Sanders’s office had improperly altered and withheld public records related to the office’s spending on the lectern.

The questions and criticism prompted State Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., a Republican, to request an audit.

The legislative auditors said in their report that Ms. Sanders and the three vendors involved in the sale had not responded to their questions during the investigation.

In February, the governor’s staff was told by a vendor that a “falcon style podium” would cost between $10,000 and $15,000, the report said. In interviews with the auditors, staff members said that they “could not recall any other quotes being obtained,” the report said. But auditors found that on March 24, a staff member had contacted an Arkansas-based equipment dealer and received a quote for portable podiums ranging in cost from $800 to $1,500.

The report found that before a request for records about the podium purchase was made, there had been “no indication the governor’s office was seeking reimbursement for the cost of the podium and road case.” Auditors found that a staff member with the governor’s office had altered the public record by including a handwritten note that read “to be reimbursed” on two invoices.

There were also hints in the report that the cost of the podium was unnecessary.

“It should be noted that similar non-customized falcon style podiums can be purchased from online vendors starting at approximately $7,000, as opposed to the $11,575 amount allocated to the custom falcon podium,” the report said.

The auditors also questioned whether a custom podium even met the guidelines for how the funds approved by the budget committee of the General Assembly could be spent.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Alexa Henning, said in a statement that the report had demonstrated “what the governor’s office said all along: We followed the law, and the state was fully reimbursed with private funds for the podium, at no cost to the taxpayers.”

Mr. Griffin, in an opinion requested by Ms. Sanders, found last week that Arkansas laws on accounting and budgetary procedures apply only to state agencies, not constitutional offices.

Anna Betts contributed reporting.



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