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Audit Says Arkansas Governor’s Office May Have Broken Laws With Purchase Of $19,000 Lectern

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office may have violated state laws on purchasing, state property and government administration when it bought a $19,000 lectern for the Republican governor, drawing national attention, according to a report by lawmakers requested audit Monday.

Legislative auditors have referred the findings of the long-awaited lectern audit to local prosecutors and the attorney general, and lawmakers planned to hold a hearing on the report Tuesday. The report noted several possible legal violations, including paying for the lectern before it was delivered and processing the data related to the purchase.

Sanders’ office, which has dismissed questions about the lectern, called the audit’s findings “deeply flawed” and a “waste of taxpayer resources and time.”

“No laws were broken,” her office said in a response to the report. “No fraud has been committed.”

Arkansas lawmakers last year approved the request to review the purchase of the lectern, which had been the focus of national scrutiny, including its cost. The lectern for Sanders, who served as press secretary for former President Donald Trump and is widely seen as a potential candidate to become his running mate, has drawn attention ranging from late-night host Jimmy Kimmel to The New York Times.

The blue and wood-paneled lectern was purchased in June with a state credit card for $19,029.25 from an events company in Virginia. The Republican Party of Arkansas refunded the state for the purchase on September 14, and Sanders’ office has called the use of the state credit card an accounting error. Sanders’ office said it received the lectern in August.

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The item was not seen at Sanders’ public events. Sanders posted a video on the social platform X shortly after the audit was published late Monday afternoon featuring the lectern and the words “Come and Take It.”

Pulaski County District Attorney Will Jones’ office said it had received the audit and would review it, but said it would have no further comment.

Accountants said in the report that they could not determine whether the cost of the lectern was reasonable. According to the report, the three out-of-state suppliers involved in the purchase did not respond to numerous auditors’ requests for information about the lectern.

Sanders’ office and accountants disputed whether the governor and other constitutional officials are subject to the purchasing and ownership rules she is accused of violating. The audit found that the governor’s office did not follow the steps set out in state law for agencies to dispose of state property.

“(Arkansas Legislative Audit) alleges that the stage and road business remain state property,” the audit said.

Sanders’ office said in its response that the cited procurement and ownership laws apply only to government agencies, and not to constitutional officers. A non-binding legal opinion from Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin, requested by Sanders and released last week, made the same argument.

“I am dismayed to see that a significant portion of Legislative Audit’s analysis rests on the erroneous conclusion that the Governor’s Office is a ‘state agency’ within the meaning of certain statutes,” Griffin said in a written statement Monday.

The purchase of the lectern emerged last year just as Sanders was pressing lawmakers to broadly restrict public access to data about her administration. Sanders ultimately signed a measure blocking the release of her travel and security data, after broader exemptions faced backlash from media groups and some conservatives.

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The purchase was initially discovered by Matt Campbell, an attorney and blogger who has a long history of requests for open records that have exposed questionable spending and other misdeeds by elected officials.

The audit found that Sanders’ office may have illegally tampered with public records when the words “reimbursable” were added to the original invoice for the lectern only after the state GOP paid for it in September. Sanders’ office disputed this finding, calling handwritten notes on invoices “a common accounting practice.”

The audit also found that the office may have broken the law when a shipping document related to the lectern was shredded by a Sanders employee. Sanders’ office said the document, the “bill of lading,” was accidentally lost and that a replacement document was provided to auditors when it was discovered.

The lectern was purchased from Beckett Events LLC, a Virginia-based company run by political consultant and lobbyist Virginia Beckett. According to a Beckett Events breakdown included in the audit, the total costs included $11,575 for the lectern, $2,500 for a “consulting fee” and $2,200 for the road case. Costs also include shipping, delivery, and credit card processing fees.

Similar lectern models are listed online for $7,500 or less. Sanders has said the one purchased by the state had additional features that contributed to the cost, including a custom height. The audit found that the lectern contained a light, but no microphone or electronic components. Auditors saw and measured the lectern at GOP headquarters, the report said.

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House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, a Little Rock Democrat who serves on the audit committee, said she wants more answers from the governor’s office about the findings.

“We need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to make sure that people are held accountable and that things run smoothly going forward,” McCullough said.

Republican Senate President Bart Hester said he was not concerned about the audit’s findings, saying the legislative audit was wrong in applying the purchasing and ownership laws to the governor’s office. Hester said, “There could have been a cleaner process” in handling documents.

“More importantly, it shows there was no bomb,” Hester said.

The report focused an unusual amount of attention on the Division of Legislative Audit, which conducts more than a thousand audits of state and local government annually. Hours before the report was released, lawmakers on the audit committee were allowed to view it in a room in the Capitol but were not allowed to make notes or copies of it.

The audit was issued days after lawmakers began a legislative session focused on the state budget.

Republican Sen. Jimmy Hickey, who requested the audit, declined to comment late Monday afternoon.

The audit is the first of two Hickey requested from lawmakers last year. The audit committee also approved another audit that looked at the travel and security records that Sanders retroactively protected from disclosure under changes to the state’s open records law.

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