Arkansas legislative auditor says review of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' $19,000 lectern purchase won't be finished in 2023

Legislative Auditor Roger Norman (left) and the lectern identified by the Sanders administration as costing $19,029.25 are shown in Little Rock in these 2023 file photos. Norman was attending a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 12, 2023, and the lectern was displayed in the Governors Conference Room at the state Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Legislative Auditor Roger Norman (left) and the lectern identified by the Sanders administration as costing $19,029.25 are shown in Little Rock in these 2023 file photos. Norman was attending a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 12, 2023, and the lectern was displayed in the Governors Conference Room at the state Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)


Arkansas Legislative Auditor Roger Norman expects Arkansas Legislative Audit’s review of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' purchase of a lectern that cost about $19,000 to be completed next year, Norman said Thursday. The lectern was purchased from Beckett Events LLC.

On Oct. 13, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee authorized Arkansas Legislative Audit to conduct an expedited review of the purchase of the lectern. On Nov. 8, Norman told state lawmakers the review likely wouldn’t be done before the end of this year.

Asked whether he expected the review to be completed after the end of this year, Norman told reporters Thursday “absolutely.”

Asked whether there is any particular reason why the review won’t be completed by the end of this year, he said, “No, we are just doing our diligent steps in the investigation.”

“Nothing has changed,” Norman said after a meeting of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee’s Executive Committee. None of the committee’s members on Thursday asked about the review of the lectern purchase.

State Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, who is a former chair of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, requested the review of the purchase.

On Oct. 12, Hickey told the audit committee’s executive committee that an investigation was needed because members of the public have questioned the purchase. Blogger Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report first reported on the lectern’s purchase, publishing an invoice for the item Sept. 15 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

State records show a payment receipt dated June 12 to Beckett Events LLC of Arlington, Va., for $19,029.25 on the document, and an invoice dated June 8 for $18,475 for a 39-inch custom Falcon Podium with a custom podium road case and a 3% credit processing fee of $554.25 to the office of the governor.

Although the invoice describes the item as a “podium,” a term often used to describe a piece of furniture behind which a person stands for reading or speaking, the actual term for such an item is “lectern.”

The Republican Party of Arkansas’ Special Project Account 1 reimbursed $19,029.25 to the state of Arkansas for the cost of the governor’s office purchasing a lectern with a check dated Sept. 14, state records show. The Republican Party of Arkansas used private inaugural funds raised by the governor for the reimbursement, according to the governor’s office.

In addition to authorizing auditors’ review of the purchase of the lectern by Sanders’ office, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee on Oct. 13 also approved Hickey’s request to review “all matters limited to expenditures involving the governor or the governor’s office made confidential by Section 4 (a) of Act 7 of the First Extraordinary Session of 2023.” Section 4 (a) of Act 7 made Section 1 of the act retroactive to June 1, 2022.

Section 1 of Act 7 expanded the information exempted under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to include information compiled or possessed by the Division of State Police concerning the “duties performed by the division” under Arkansas Code Annotated 12-8-108 (a) that makes the division responsible for the safety and security of the governor and her family.

Section 3 of Act 7 also created an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act exemption for records that reflect the planning or provision of security services provided to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, state lands commissioner, state lawmakers, state Supreme Court justices or state Court of Appeals judges. That exemption also is retroactive to June 1, 2022, under Act 7.

Arkansas State Police Director Mike Hagar has said the retroactive clause was needed in Act 7 because planning for the protection of Sanders and her family began long before she took office.

Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning has said the governor welcomes the audit and encourages legislators to complete it without delay.

Sanders has denied that any records turned over under the state’s open records law were altered or withheld, and expressed confidence a review of the matter by legislative auditors would find no wrongdoing. She also has attributed the dispute to an accounting error.

Information for this article was contributed by Neal Early of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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