Recent public records have cast further doubts on when Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office intended to reimburse the state for a $19,000 lectern, which was initially purchased using a government credit card in June.
The Suspicious Text Added Much Later
The records, disclosed this week, indicate that the Arkansas GOP covered the lectern’s cost in September, but the words “to be reimbursed” were added to the original invoice after the fact.
The unverified date of this note about reimbursement has led to increasing scrutiny of the purchase and prompted a legislative panel to consider an audit.
The Shocking Price is Much Higher Than Others
The controversy surrounding this transaction began when a custom blue and wood-paneled lectern was procured for a notably high price of $19,029.25 in June, well above the prices listed for similar lecterns online.
The Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for this purchase on September 14.
She Used the State Credit Card
Sanders’ office has claimed that the use of a state credit card for this transaction was an accounting error and said they received the lectern in August.
Governor Sanders has welcomed the idea of an audit into the lectern purchase but has dismissed the ongoing questions surrounding it.
Someone Told Her to Write the Note
According to an email received on Monday, Laura Hamilton, executive assistant and office manager for Sanders, included the note “to be reimbursed” after receiving instructions from unidentified sources.
The email from Cassie Cantlon, an employee of the Department of Transformation and Shared Services, did not specify who instructed Hamilton but indicated that Hamilton was advised not to include a date.
She Didn’t Say Who Ordered It
While Sanders’ office acknowledged the addition of the note, she did not disclose who issued the directive.
According to Alexa Henning, a spokesperson for Sanders’ office: “A note was added to the receipt so that it would accurately reflect that the state was being reimbursed for the podium with private funding the governor raised for her inauguration and the check was properly dated.”
Henning dismissed the invoice questions as a “manufactured controversy.”
Lawyer Confirms Altered Record
Lawyer Tom Mars confirmed the altered public record’s existence, which he referenced in a letter to Senator Jimmy Hickey.
Mars has claimed that a client with firsthand knowledge of Sanders’ office interfering with open records requests is prepared to provide a confidential statement to lawmakers.
The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee is set to discuss Hickey’s request for an audit.
Company That Sold Lectern Is Silent
In response to an Associated Press request, invoices and communications related to Beckett Events LLC, the Virginia company that sold the lectern, were not provided. The company has not responded to queries about the lectern.
Chairman Dismisses Concerns
Earlier emails disclosed on Monday did not mention plans for the Arkansas Republican Party to repay the state.
State Republican Party Chairman Joseph Wood dismissed concerns about the purchase but did not specify whether the original intention was for the party to reimburse the state.
Sanders Hasn’t Said Why It’s So Expensive
Sanders’ office has yet to clarify the lectern’s perceived high cost or specify the features that justified this expense. Although, we know the total price did include a road case, taxes, shipping, and a 3% credit card processing fee.
The acquisition of the lectern came to light last month through the efforts of Matthew Campbell, a lawyer and blogger who has filed lawsuits against the Arkansas State Police, alleging the illegal withholding of public documents related to Sanders’ travel and security.
Sanders Sought to Curtail Public Access to Documents
In response to Campbell’s lawsuits, Governor Sanders proposed legislation to curtail public access to various documents, particularly those involving her security and travel records, which was ultimately signed into law.
This move followed criticism from media organizations, transparency advocates, and some conservative groups.
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