- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee accepted tens of thousands of dollars in suits and clothes as well as dozens of airplane trips, sporting tickets, country club memberships, fishing rods and jewelry for his wife during his years as Arkansas governor.

Mr. Huckabee was never found to have violated any ethics laws and his predecessors, including former President Bill Clinton, took dozens of similar donations, reports show. State ethics laws in Arkansas don’t prohibit such gift-giving.

Still, Mr. Huckabee’s years as governor from 1996 to 2007 at times were marked by run-ins with the state ethics board and complaints by political rivals about his practice of accepting gifts.

One financial disclosure report by Mr. Huckabee makes clear the tension between the governor and state ethics officials over the practice. In describing a $145 blanket, the former governor’s financial form explained that the item wasn’t a gift because it was returned.

“Although it is not necessary to disclose the gift herein, the disclosure is being made out of an abundance of caution to avoid another partisan attack by the Ethics Commission,” the filing stated.

A review of public records from 1996 to 1999 shows Mr. Huckabee accepted donations from private sources to pay for airfare on more than 50 trips throughout Arkansas and across the country. The travel included trips paid for by the Entergy power company and the University of Arkansas to see sporting events.

As a power company, Entergy was regulated by the state. But Alice Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. Huckabee, said the governor acted fully within the law when he accepted gifts and that donors never received any special treatment. She also said Entergy was regulated by an independent state agency.

“He was never found to have done anything wrong,” she said.

Mr. Huckabee, who reportedly earned $74,145 in 2006 as governor, accepted more than $110,000 in gifts in 1999 alone, though some of the gifts he said he did not use, according to financial records.

Over the years, Mr. Huckabee reported more than 200 gifts, including free dental care, car repair, eyeglasses, guns, guitars, furniture, interior design services, and tickets to numerous sporting events, including a Dallas Cowboys game, the Cotton Bowl and the Citrus Bowl.

Meredith McGehee, policy director for the District-based Campaign Legal Center, a group that studies federal and state campaign and ethics issues, said donations to public officials are often a way to get access.

“These sorts of donations, whether to Huckabee or anybody else, are really about who gets to rub elbows,” Ms. McGehee said. “The whole point is getting your issues on the radar screen and that’s 90 percent of the battle.”

“It kind of perverts the system,” she said. “It leaves the rest of the vast majority of Americans on the sidelines.”

Ms. McGehee said states vary in how strict laws are that govern the acceptance of gifts by public officials. Some states, such as Wisconsin, won’t allow elected officials to take a cup of coffee, she said.

“It’s fair to say that in Arkansas it’s more tolerated,” Ms. McGehee said. “But what’s acceptable in your state isn’t always going to be acceptable elsewhere.”

Mr. Huckabee’s financial disclosure reports can be viewed on the Arkansas secretary of state’s Web site at www.sos.arkansas.gov. However, the office’s Web site records do not include reports from former governors Bill Clinton or Jim Guy Tucker.

In 1990, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper reported that Mr. Clinton accepted 41 gifts as governor in 1988, including golf clubs, a video recorder, a country club membership and airfare paid by entities such as a poultry producer, an insurance company and an oil company.

Mr. Tucker reported gifts from 21 persons or entities as well as travel expenses to a Dallas Cowboys game paid for by team owner Jerry Jones, according to the newspaper. He resigned after a mail fraud conviction in 1996.

Mr. Huckabee’s acceptance of donations decreased after 1999. At the time, he defended accepting gifts and told the newspaper that the donations never influenced any of his decisions as governor.

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