Joint Auditing Committee OKs expedited review of lectern purchase by governor's office

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.

The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee on Friday authorized Arkansas Legislative Audit to conduct an expedited review of the purchase of a lectern for about $19,000 from Beckett Events LLC by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office.

In a voice vote without any audible dissenters or debate, the full committee voted to approve its executive committee’s recommendation to conduct the review of the lectern purchase requested by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, a former chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.

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

State records show the governor’s office purchased in June a 39-inch custom Falcon Podium and custom travel case from Beckett Events LLC, an events management firm based in Arlington, Va.

In addition to authorizing auditors’ review of the purchase of the lectern by Sanders’ office, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee on Friday also approved the executive subcommittee’s recommendation to approve 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 to 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, among other things, 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 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.

The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee also approved the executive committee’s recommendation to approve Hickey’s request for Arkansas Legislative Audit to develop procedures for reporting matters discovered during the staff’s review of “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,” and for the proposed procedures to be submitted to the executive committee to review and approval at its next meeting on Nov. 8.

Hickey said Thursday the audit will give the public a thorough accounting of the purchase.

Sanders’ office has said the lectern did not cost taxpayers because the Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the purchase in September. Emails from state employees show the purchase of the lectern was made June 12 using a state credit card, and that the Republican Party of Arkansas’ check reimbursing the state for its cost is dated Sept. 14.

On Sunday, Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Joseph Wood said on KARK’s Capitol View that it is normal practice for the GOP to purchase furnishings for the governor’s office.

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

"This is nothing more than a manufactured controversy by left wing activists to distract from the bold conservative reforms the legislature has passed and the governor has signed into law and is effectively implementing in Arkansas," she said in a written statement.