LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas legislative subcommittee on Thursday approved an expedited audit of the purchase of a podium by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office alongside a review of confidential information.
The state’s Legislative Joint Auditing Executive Committee approved the request submitted by Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) to review the podium purchase, which has been part of the debate over the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
The committee also approved an audit of information made confidential after changes to the FOIA law at the most recent legislative session.
This was the bipartisan committee’s first meeting after Hickey’s request filed on Sept. 27. Included in the committee vote on the audit was that it be “expedited.”
The $19,029.25 podium and travel case purchase was made from Beckett Events LLC of Virginia by the governor’s office in June. The expense was later reimbursed by the state Republican party.
Hickey explained to the committee that the audit of the podium purchase would also clarify who owns it and if its purchase is in line with state property regulations.
The records being audited are those made confidential with the passage of Act 7, which made changes to the state’s FOIA rules after the recent legislative special session. These are records related to security expenses.
Hickey, a former co-chair of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, told the committee the review was not to expose the governor’s security arrangements, but of expenses classified under the security label by the governor’s office. The concern was that the confidentiality of the records had become retroactive after the most recent FOIA changes.
Proposed changes to FOIA rules that were supported by the governor’s office during the special session were met with bipartisan push-back when they were first introduced. The new law that ultimately passed included a significantly stripped-down version of the changes originally submitted.
Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning said on social media when Hickey filed the request that the governor “welcomes the audit and encourages legislators to complete it without delay.”
On Thursday, Henning said Sanders welcomed the audit and hope legislators would start the process immediately.
In a message to KARK 4 News reporter Samantha Boyd, Henning called the debate over the podium “nothing more than a manufactured controversy by left wing activists” that the spokesperson said was an attempt “to distract from the bold conservative reforms the legislature has passed and the governor has signed into law.”