by Max Brantley
We've been promising more news about gift-receiving by Gov. and Mrs. Mike Huckabee.
It's now on the web, an early post from this week's Insider column in the Arkansas Times.
Some of this gift, but not all, was announced publicly in October, on the occasion when the Grand Hall at the Governor's Mansion (photo shows Huckabees in the hall) became the latest in a list of buildings and lakes in Arkansas named for one or the other of the first couple, this one for Janet Huckabee. The press on hand overlooked the significance of the portion of the gift announced then and did not list its value.
Here's the relevant bottom line:
The Governor's Mansion Association, which raises tax-deductible contributions to pay for renovations and improvements to the mansion and which is overseen by a board of friends and political intimates of the governor and his wife, apparently has given Mrs. Huckabee a heckuva going-away gift in addition to her name in stone.
The tax-free charity gave her 25 five-piece place settings of the custom-made Lenox china designed for use at the Mansion (worth an estimated $225 each) and 20 three-piece place settings of Waterford crystal (which could range from $75 to $225 per setting, depending on crystal pattern). Sally Stevens, a Huckabee friend who heads the Association board, put an estimate on the total value of the gift at $7,500, but refused to take further questions. Mansion administrator Don Bingham, a public employee who keeps the records for such purchases, has refused our FOI request. It's likely, given the cost of a typical piece of popular Waterford Lismore, that the total value of the gift is closer to $10,000.
The Mansion Association was established to maintain and improve the Mansion. Defenders of the gift will argue that a large gift to Mrs. Huckabee is within the charitable purpose of the organization as a reward for her volunteer work. One lawyer we consulted said that was probably a defensible argument. Is a gift given in return for work taxable? The lawyer indicated that might be an interesting question.
Never mind legal technicalities. What do you think people who've given money for Mansion work would think of spending nearly $10,000 this way? A large sum was raised, for example, at a fund-raising luncheon attended by Hillary Clinton, among many former First Ladies. On that occasion, each First Lady was given a "shadow box" containing a plate of the Mansion china.
Did Janet Huckabee have any influence on the gift? Why did it occur to the Mansion Association to give 25 place settings of china and 20 of crystal? How did they know the appropriate pattern of crystal? Which stems were chosen? Surely they are not wine goblets for the teetotaler Huckabees.
In the last day or so, the Huckabees have noted that the Mansion Association has "offered" $10,000 to incoming First Lady Ginger Beebe for any needs as she moves into the mansion in January. Whose money is it anyway? How is it, as Huckabee said, a sign of his wife's "generosity" that Mrs. Beebe was offered this money from a nonprofit organization? Isn't it for Mansion upkeep? If Mrs. Beebe has good sense, she'll let State Building Services cover any needed maintenance, as is its obligation. Since the Huckabee camp has been aware for three days that we planned to publish this story, it occurs to us that the $10,000 offer to Mrs. Beebe might not be coincidental.
$10,000 worth of dishes and glasses is a significant gift, particularly if it comes from tax-deductible contributions to a building fund. Would you accept such a gift from a charity for which you'd worked?
Huckabee spokespeople have refused to take repeated questions on the gift. A news account of the Grand Hall opening says the Governors Mansion Association provided the china. The crystal has not been previously announced but was given at an Association meeting, Stevens said. If there was a source other than the Association for the purchase, Stevens and others declined several opportunities to say so.