Sanders' 2023 financial disclosure report includes gifts valued at about $9,500, including research trips for husband

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs a bill into law at the state Capitol in this Jan. 26, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs a bill into law at the state Capitol in this Jan. 26, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

On her annual financial disclosure report for 2023, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders reported the receipt of gifts valued at about $9,500, including research trips for First Gentleman Bryan Sanders to Canada, New Hampshire and Massachusetts for Arkansas' downhill mountain bike park, and non-government sources paying for about $12,900 in food, travel or lodging expenses.

The Parks and Recreation Foundation provided the research trip valued at $3,159 from July 10-13 to Whistler, Canada, and the research trip to New Hampshire and Massachusetts is valued at $812 from Oct. 18-20, the Republican governor reported.

The governor's report for 2023 doesn't include any expenses paid by the nonprofit Arkansas Economic Development Foundation, which supports the efforts of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

The governor's spokeswoman Alexa Henning said Thursday night that "the office is filing an amended report with [Arkansas Economic Development Foundation] information included on Friday."

In September, Henning said the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation paid for the governor and Bryan Sanders' trade mission to Europe in June except for certain costs. At that time, she said the governor personally paid for lodging, meals and other expenses in the United Kingdom and Italy and the only expense of the governor paid by the state was a $117 train ticket that was purchased for the governor to visit Arkansas National Guard troops in Germany.

The foundation's payment of expenses for the governor and the first gentleman follows precedent of previous governors.

The deadline for elected and other high-ranking officials throughout state government to file their annual statement of financial interest with the secretary of state's office was Wednesday.

On their reports, state officials are required to list the source, date, description and a reasonable estimate of the fair market value of each gift of more than $100 received by them or their spouse and each gift of more than $250 received by their dependent children.

Besides the two research trips for Bryan Sanders, the governor also reported the receipt of the other following gifts in 2023:

-- A flight for Bryan Sanders, Little Rock-Bentonville, for Axios NW interview valued at $3,285.15 from Tom Walton on Feb. 15. Walton serves with Bryan Sanders on the Natural State Advisory Council.

Bryan Sanders is chairman of the council, which was established by the governor in 2023 to promote outdoor recreation in Arkansas.

Tom Walton is co-founder of Runway Group of Bentonville, a holding company that invests in real estate, outdoor initiatives, hospitality and businesses. He's also a grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

According to an Axios report Feb. 21, a reporter met Bryan Sanders and Walton at a flying club in Bentonville to discuss the Natural State Initiative

-- A fishing trip/lodging for Bryan Sanders valued at $825 from Gaston's White River Resort on May 16.

-- A Glass Slipper Award, a painting of the state Capitol and a painting of the governor's mansion valued at $600 from Ouachita Baptist University on Nov. 17.

-- A guided expedition in Arkansas, research trip for the Arkansas Natural State Advisory Council for Bryan Sanders valued at $350 on April 18 from 37 North Expeditions.

-- A branded hunting vest for Bryan Sanders valued at $109.99 from Stan Jones on Nov. 7.

-- A painting of the governor and first gentleman valued at $240 from state Rep. Sonia Barker, R-Smackover, on May 12.

-- A turkey call for Bryan Sanders valued at $150 from Grant Westmoreland on April 4.

On their annual financial disclosure reports, state officials also are required to list each nongovernmental source of payment for their expenses for food, lodging or travel which bears a relationship to their office when they appear in their official capacity and the expenses incurred exceed $150.

In 2023, Sarah Sanders reported the following nongovernmental payment of these expenses:

-- Republican Governors Association for travel and lodging expenses of $4,843 during May of 2023 and for travel expenses of $1,966.40 in July 2023.

-- Scott Niswonger of Greenville, Tenn., for travel expenses of $2,367 during November 2023 and for travel expenses $2,286 during October of 2023.

-- Alex Lieblong of Conway for travel expenses of $590 on July 23. Liebling is chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.

-- UP Partners Management Co. LLC of Santa Monica, Calif., for lodging expenses $585.34 during October 2023.

-- Jonathan Hage of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for travel expenses of $317 during November 2023.

Henning said Thursday night the July expense was for the trip to the southern border, the October expenses were for the Up Summit in Dallas, and the November expenses were for education policy travel to Nashville, Tenn., and Greenville, Tenn. The expenses paid by the Republican Governors Association were for the association governors' meeting in Austin in May and the association governors' meeting in Aspen, Colo., in July, she said.

On their annual financial disclosure reports, state officials also are required to list each employer and/or each other source of income from which they, their spouse or any other person for the use or benefit of them or their spouse receive gross income amounting to more than $1,000.

The governor reported income of more than $12,500 from the state of Arkansas in 2023. The governor's salary from the state is $163,501 a year.

State officials also are required to list each business in which they, their spouse or any other person for the use or benefit of them or their spouse have an investment or holding on their annual financial disclosure reports.

Sanders reported her holdings of more than $12,500 apiece in Second Street Strategies LLC of Little Rock, Centennial Bank of Conway, the Federal Thrift Savings Plan, Equitable, and Arkansas Brighter Future 529 Plan, and Bryan Sanders' holdings of more than $12,500 apiece in Sycamore Ranch LLC of Little Rock, BCS Communications LLC of Little Rock, and Merrill Lynch.

In October, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on Sycamore Ranch holdings after reviewing the governor's statements of financial interest for 2021 and 2022.

Sycamore Ranch LLC bought the property near Beaver Dam in November 2021 for $3.8 million, according to Carroll County property records. The limited liability company owns a two-story, four-bedroom house on 505 heavily wooded acres on a hill overlooking the tailwaters of the White River below the dam at Beaver Lake, according to property records.

Built in 2014, the house is a few miles west of Eureka Springs, off a county road, with a long, gated driveway.

According to the Arkansas secretary of state's office, the incorporator/organizer and registered agent for Sycamore Ranch LLC is Glen Johnson, who Sarah Sanders appointed in February 2023 to serve on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Upcoming Events