EDITORIAL >>Forced to tell the truth
The “Special Events Fund,” platitudinously named like so many preceding secret accounts set up by Huckabee since he became lieutenant governor (you will remember the Action America fund set up in 1994 with the help of tobacco lobbyists to help him supplement his low government wage), came to light late last year when a nosy Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter made one too many freedom of information requests. He found the Special Events Fund, a private bank account set up for Huckabee and operated by his chief of staff but managed by the state Department of Finance and Administration.
It turned out that the fund was created primarily to pay for a portrait of Huckabee that would be hung in the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol. But the governor never reported it nor did he disclose the names of people who gave him the money for the portrait, as state law clearly required. When the fund’s existence was disclosed, Jim Parsons of Bella Vista lodged a complaint with the state Ethics Commission.
The commission’s director said the law did seem to require the disclosure but still Huckabee stonewalled. Finally, on the day of the ethics hearing at Little Rock, Huckabee’s attorney released the list of donors and huddled privately with the Ethics Commission. The law finally requited, the commission did not pursue the complaint.
All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite. There is still the little matter of Mike Huckabee’s honesty. He was, after all, the exemplar of virtue in the recently ended (for him) presidential campaign. He talked about bringing a higher level of morality to office and public life. In matters of getting and spending money he has never been quite the moral exemplar he claims to be and that people have a right to expect.
Public officials are required to disclose all gifts made to them outside their circles of family and friends. Huckabee’s annual report to the Ethics Commission said that Nancy Harris of Williamsburg, Va., had donated a portrait that she painted of him.
But that was not true. She was paid for the painting and the governor hit up lobbyists and people he had appointed to state boards and commissions to pony up the cash for the painting. They pitched in $32,000 and it was channeled through a private bank account.
The largest contributors, if you want to measure influence with Mike Huckabee, were Entergy Corp., the power company regulated by the state, and two businessmen whom Huckabee appointed to the state Game and Fish Commission and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. They gave $5,000 each.