Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas is facing some of the sharpest scrutiny of her early tenure after a public records request revealed that her office bought a lectern for $19,000 — and a whistle-blower accused the office of altering records to cover up the spending.
Late last month, it came to light that the state had purchased the lectern and an accompanying traveling case in June, paying $19,029.25 to Beckett Events LLC, an events management company with ties to Ms. Sanders, a Republican who took office in January.
The information was obtained by Matthew Campbell, a lawyer and blogger who had filed a broad public records request. Mr. Campbell posted the invoice for the lectern on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The purchase has been a matter of contention in Arkansas over the last few weeks, including among some of Ms. Sanders’s fellow Republicans. One of them, State Senator Jimmy Hickey Jr., has asked the state’s Legislative Joint Auditing Committee to investigate.
According to documents shared online by Mr. Campbell, the Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the lectern with a $19,029.25 check dated Sept. 14, three months after the purchase. The reimbursement, according to Mr. Campbell, occurred several days after he filed the Freedom of Information Act request for the records, and a day before he received the state’s response, he told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in an interview.
In late September, an anonymous whistle-blower claimed that Ms. Sanders’s office improperly altered and withheld public records related to the office’s spending on the lectern. The whistle-blower’s lawyer sent a letter to Senator Hickey on the day he requested the audit, offering his client’s testimony and documents.
To complicate things further, the lawyer, Tom Mars, served as the director of the Arkansas State Police under Ms. Sanders’s father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In his letter, Mr. Mars said that his client had documents that could substantiate how people in the governor’s office “interfered with the production of nonexempt FOIA documents” that were intended for Mr. Campbell.
Mr. Mars wrote that if the auditing committee found that his client’s allegations were true, it would appear to constitute a violation of two state public records laws.
Alexa Henning, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the state was reimbursed for the podium with private funding the governor raised for her inauguration,” adding that the governor’s office would welcome an audit “and encourage 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 governor has signed into law and is effectively implementing in Arkansas,” Ms. Henning added.
Last week, Ms. Sanders, who served as White House press secretary for part of the Trump administration, told reporters that “people want to manufacture a controversy where there isn’t one,” noting that the state had been reimbursed for the lectern.
“There are some people who are always going to be angry and always looking for something to complain about,” she said.
In another wrinkle, the founder of Beckett Events LLC, the event management company, has been a lobbyist in the Washington region.
The documents that revealed the purchase of the lectern were part of a larger records request that Mr. Campbell made in September seeking information about Ms. Sanders’s travel and expenses.
Soon after Mr. Campbell filed the request, Ms. Sanders proposed overhauling the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The law, as it stood, endangered her family, Ms. Sanders said, because it did not go far enough in shielding information about her security. In September, she called for blocking the disclosure of such information and other changes.
In response, Mr. Campbell began posting copies of receipts he had obtained through the records request on social media, including the one for the lectern.
Lawmakers ended up approving a stripped-down version of Ms. Sanders’s proposal.
In an interview, Mr. Mars said that when the whistle-blower reached out to him, he assessed the credibility of the claims and consulted with a legal ethics expert in Arkansas before reaching out to Senator Hickey.
Later this week, the Legislative Joint Auditing Executive Committee will decide whether to move ahead with an audit to review the purchase of the lectern, according to The Associated Press.
State Representative Jimmy Gazaway, a Republican and co-chair of the committee, has said that he supports pursuing an audit. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rick Rojas contributed reporting.