Huckabee’s Hucksterism vs. Clintons’ Cash

There’s a seedy side to this candidate’s smile.

Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
May 8, 2015, 3:08 a.m.

Be­hind former Gov. Mike Hucka­bee’s warm smile, in­clus­ive rhet­or­ic, and gee-whiz pop­u­lism lies an eth­ics re­cord that would make a Clin­ton blush. His greedy, cheesy money grabs as gov­ernor in Arkan­sas were a pre­view of today’s greedy, cheesy money grabs.

As part of what The New York Times called “un­con­ven­tion­al ways to fund a cam­paign,” the newly min­ted GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate re­cently pitched a du­bi­ous med­ic­al treat­ment via in­fomer­cial.

“Let me tell you, dia­betes can be re­versed,” Hucka­bee says. “I should know, be­cause I did it. Today you can, too.”

No you can’t. The Amer­ic­an Dia­betes As­so­ci­ation and the Ca­na­dian Dia­betes As­so­ci­ation cau­tion con­sumers against treat­ments like the one sold by the com­pany Hucka­bee rep­res­ents.

But that’s not all! Hucka­bee is al­low­ing his mail­ing list—the names and email ad­dresses of his polit­ic­al sup­port­ers—to be used to peddle can­cer cures based on Bible verses.

In Arkan­sas, we called him “The Huck­ster.” As vet­er­an Little Rock colum­nist Max Brant­ley wrote for Salon in 2007, the former Baptist preach­er “re­vealed an en­dur­ing weak­ness as glar­ing as that oth­er Arkan­sas gov­ernor’s fond­ness for wo­men.”

Hucka­bee seems to love loot and has a dis­missive at­ti­tude to­ward eth­ics, cam­paign fin­ance rules, and pro­pri­ety in gen­er­al. Since that first, failed cam­paign, the eth­ic­al ques­tions have mul­ti­plied.

In the 1992 con­test with [Dale] Bump­ers, Hucka­bee used cam­paign funds to pay him­self as his own me­dia con­sult­ant. Oth­er pay­ments went to the fam­ily babysit­ter.

In his suc­cess­ful 1994 run for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, he set up a non­profit cur­tain known as Ac­tion Amer­ica so he could give speeches for money without hav­ing to dis­close the names of his be­ne­fact­ors. He failed to re­port that cam­paign travel pay­ments were for the use of his own per­son­al plane.

After he be­came gov­ernor in 1996, he raked in tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in gifts, in­clud­ing gifts from people he later ap­poin­ted to pres­ti­gi­ous state com­mis­sions.

In the gov­ernor’s of­fice, his grasp nev­er ex­ceeded his reach. Fur­niture he’d re­ceived to doll up his of­fice was car­ted out with him when he left, after he’d crushed com­puter hard drives so nobody could ever get a peek be­hind the cur­tain of the Hucka­bee ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­til my pa­per, the Arkan­sas Times, blew the whistle, he con­ver­ted a gov­ernor’s man­sion op­er­at­ing ac­count in­to a per­son­al ex­pense ac­count, claim­ing pub­lic money for a dog­house, dry-clean­ing bills, panty hose, and meals at Taco Bell. He tried to claim $70,000 in fur­nish­ings provided by a wealthy cot­ton-grow­er for the private part of the res­id­ence as his own, un­til he learned eth­ics rules pre­ven­ted it. When a dis­gruntled former em­ploy­ee dis­closed memos re­veal­ing all this, the Hucka­bee camp shut her up by re­peatedly sug­gest­ing she might be vul­ner­able to pro­sec­u­tion for theft be­cause she’d shared doc­u­ments gen­er­ated by the state’s highest of­fi­cial.

But wait! There’s more. “Three dec­ades after the Hucka­bees’ wed­ding,” Brant­ley wrote, “his wife re­gistered at de­part­ment stores so their new home, post-gov­ernor’s man­sion, could be stocked with gifts of lin­ens, toast­ers, and oth­er suit­able fur­nish­ings.”

Say what you want about Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s eth­ic­al corner-cut­ting after they left Arkan­sas (or scroll my diatribes here), their con­duct in the 1980s and early 1990s nev­er ap­proached Hucka­bee’s depths. They didn’t use the gov­ernor’s of­fice as a per­son­al ATM. They didn’t trade on the pub­lic’s trust.

Gov. Bill Clin­ton re­gistered his­tor­ic eth­ics re­form.

Gov. Mike Hucka­bee re­gistered at Tar­get.

What’s worse is the pi­ous, prickly way Hucka­bee ad­dresses these is­sues. Just this week, CNN host Jake Tap­per asked the can­did­ate if he lost cred­ib­il­ity by lend­ing his name to shady mar­ket­ing ef­forts.

“I nev­er signed that let­ter,” Hucka­bee said of the email selling can­cer cures. “It’s a huge email list that I de­veloped over many years. And we did, in fact, rent it out to en­tit­ies.”

“But my gosh, that’s like say­ing, ‘You run some ads on CNN, do you per­son­ally agree with all the ads that run on CNN?’ I doubt you do,” he said. “I’m sure there’s some for maybe, I don’t know, cath­et­ers or adult di­apers, they’re not products you use or you ne­ces­sar­ily be­lieve in. I don’t hold you re­spons­ible for that.”

Tap­per called out Hucka­beee for the false equi­val­ence.

“We’re talk­ing about med­ic­al devices on one hand, cath­et­ers and adult di­apers, and you’re talk­ing about something I think a lot of people would con­sider to be huck­ster­ism in terms of Bible verses cur­ing can­cer,” Tap­per said.

Huck­ster­ism. The per­fect word for Hucka­bee’s con­duct—and a warn­ing against his concept of lead­er­ship and man­age­ment. While Hucka­bee can claim le­git­im­ate ac­com­plish­ments in Arkan­sas (he raised taxes for schools, high­ways, and chil­dren’s health; he wel­comed in­to the state refugees from Hur­ricane Kat­rina and the chil­dren of im­mig­rants), there is a side of this com­plic­ated man that polit­ic­al re­port­ers of­ten miss or ig­nore. Kinda like the Clin­tons.

On CNN, Hucka­bee fi­nally told Tap­per, “I didn’t ac­tu­ally run that part of my com­pany.” Listen closely and you might hear an em­battled, scan­dal-scarred Pres­id­ent Hucka­bee de­fend­ing him­self: “I didn’t ac­tu­ally run that part of the coun­try.”

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