Leader Blues

Thursday, December 14, 2006

EDITORIALS>>He's chasing Huckabucks

Our advice to Gov. Huckabee, if he were to ask, would be to begin his presidential campaign on the highest possible note by observing the spirit and letter of the laws governing the financing of campaigns. People are impressed with rectitude in high office. A man who runs against so many odds needs at least to be squeaky clean.

Or else have tons of money. The governor did not ask and he decided that the second path is more likely to get him elected. He is skating as close to the edge of law-breaking as humanly possible. The Federal Election Commission will need to give him every benefit of doubt. When people explore the idea of running for president, they are expected to form — what else? — an exploratory committee. That subjects their fund-raising to the federal rules that are designed to forestall undue influence and corruption.

Although he has been campaigning in the early presidential primary and caucus states for a year and talking openly about running, Huckabee has not created an exploratory committee. In that, he is not alone among the potential candidates. But he did take one deceptive step down that path. He created a political action committee and registered it in Virginia, which has the weakest campaign-finance rules in America. He called it the Hope for America PAC. It was to be used by the governor to help conservative candidates for political office and help Americans adopt healthy lifestyles. In truth, it is a vehicle for financing his early presidential campaigning. His campaign gifts have been to local Republican candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire — the bellwether presidential states — and to two losing Republican candidates in Arkansas. The PAC has paid his national political consultants and for flights and other expenses of Huckabee and aides to political events in the early primary and caucus states.

But the PAC’s Web site carefully avoids explicitly mentioning the presidential race and so do his solicitations. Saturday, Huckabee will throw a gala at the Little Rock Convention Center to raise money for his Hope for America PAC. His invitation said the contributions “will be the seed money I need to travel to critical 2008 states and see if my message for our country resonates with our fellow Americans.” Notice that nowhere did he say “president” or explicitly why he would be traveling to “critical 2008 states.” It could be to encourage people in those states to lose weight, right?

What is different about this fund-raiser and the rest of the gifts to the Hope for America PAC is that there are no limitations on the gifts, either in amounts or the source. Unlike Arkansas and 47 other states, Virginia doesn’t impose any limits. As the invitations note, corporations and partnerships are free to give him any sum. Corporate contributions are forbidden in all federal campaigns and in other elections as well in most states. Campaign gifts also cannot exceed $2,100, but none of those restrictions apply to Huckabee because officially, you see, he is not running for anything or even thinking about it.

Corporations, partnerships and individuals are urged to give Huckabee at least $100,000 at the event, for which they will get virtually exclusive access to the future president for a spell during the evening, a good table at the dinner and several free autographed copies of his book about losing weight and living healthily. Gifts of $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000 will get donors lesser sets of benefits but all better than what the run-of-the-mill guest receives for his or her $500. Money is the fuel of politics, and if Huckabee cannot generate it in sizable sums he will go nowhere in the presidential race. We understand that basic political dictum. But his opponents will see to it that one day he will pay a price for how he raised it.