Sarah Sanders has some explaining to do.

The essential question of #podiumgate is this:

Did the governor use the expensive purchase of a custom lectern to toss tax dollars to her friend’s business?

Take a look at our in-depth timeline of the entire #podiumgate saga to catch up, then let’s dive into the implications of what the facts are uncovering.

The Governor’s Office went to great lengths to purchase a lectern from a vendor that was said to be officially vetted by the Deputy Chief of Staff and the Governor herself. Emails obtained via FOIA show that the Governor’s Office bypassed state government rules about paying prior to delivery and even had their credit card limit raised, all to send almost $20,000 to a company called Beckett Events (The Beckett Events website does not list “lectern production” on its services page).

Now let’s talk about Europe. Just a few months ago, the Governor took a trade mission trip. Joining her on the trip were several members of state government. Another person who was in Paris at the same time at the Governor? Virginia Beckett, GOP lobbyist and owner of the company that supposedly sold the state this pricey lectern. Hannah Salem Stone was also in Paris the same time as the Governor’s trade mission. Salem Stone worked closely with Sanders in the Trump White House, and Salem Stone and Beckett co-own a company called Salem Strategies, which Congress investigated for the company’s involvement in the rally leading to the January 6 insurrection.

At one time we were wondering if Arkansans paid for a European family vacay, but maybe it was more like a Girls’ Trip?

This isn’t the first connection between Salem Stone, Beckett and Sanders. At January’s inauguration, both Virginia Beckett and Hannah Salem Stone accompanied the Governor and her family. 

Here we see Salem Stone ushering the Huckabees up the stairs in the Capitol on Inauguration Day.

Here we see Beckett standing at the top of stairs inside the Capitol on Inauguration Day.

Additionally, both Beckett and Salem Stone got to come into town for Sanders’ State of the Union response.

Here we see the Governor with First Gentleman Bryan Sanders, Comms Director Alexa Henning, Chief of Staff Gretchen Conger, Deputy Chief of Staff Judd Deere, and Virginia Beckett and Hannah Salem Stone in the Governor’s Mansion on the night of the State of the Union response.

Did Beckett and Salem Stone fly into town just for this event?

The press conference that announced the LEARNS Act happened the next day; were they paid by the state to perform any duties that week? Do new FOIA laws even allow us to find out?

We have the answer, because Salem Strategies was paid $53,041.71 on Feb. 7 for consulting, likely for the SOTU response and possibly the LEARNS press conference.

The main takeaway: Governor Sanders didn’t just spend big money on a lectern — secrecy and improper accounting could point to her funneling money to a friend’s company.

Notwithstanding, a $19,000 spend on a fancy lectern is frivolous. It turns out that money went to a company owned by a good friend the same month the Governor went  to Europe, and her office vaguely calls it an “accounting error,” and then produces a photo of an underwhelming lectern after days of speculation, and refuses to answer questions about the details? 

Well that, our friends, looks a lot like fraud. Nobody’s found the fire yet, but the Governor’s Office is filled with smoke.