Reporters have been sniffing for weeks around a clemency decision made in the case of Eugene Fields, a Van Buren businessman released early from prison on a fourth DWI conviction thanks to a commutation by Gov. Mike Huckabee. He later proved it was a bad decision with another DWI. It was the only clemency Huckabee gave a DWI defendant over a prosecutor's objection during his 10 years in office and it drew some media scrutiny at the time. Why did Huck do it?
According to Federal Election Commission records, a month after Fields' appeal [of his fourth DWI] was denied, his wife made a $5,000 donation to the State Republican Party in June of 2003. A month later, she made an additional $5,000 donation, again to the Republican Party of Arkansas. The following month, Fields reported to prison and began his clemency application process. He was a free man in less than a year.
A former elected official in Arkansas with fundraising experience for the State Republican Party says the timing of Mrs. Fields' donations raises serious questions about their intended purpose. He spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity and says he is not supporting any Republican presidential candidate at the moment.
"In the summer of 2003 there's no real political activity," said the former official. "It's always a tough time to raise money in those periods, and all of sudden $10,000 comes walking through the door when there's no campaign going on? There's no reason to give that kind of money then."
Prior to his wife's donations, Fields had made a $10,000 donation to the Republican Party of Arkansas in October of 2000 under "Fields Investment Company," the name of his business. Both Mrs. Fields' 2003 donations and Mr. Fields' 2000 donation placed them among the largest, individual donors to the Republican Party of Arkansas in those years, on par with donations from members of the Walton family, of the Wal-Mart department store chain. The only other donation made by either Fields to the State Republican Party was in the amount of $500 in August of 2004.
The Huckabee campaign today responded to questions on the matter, saying only, "There was no connection between the handling of any clemency application and any political donation."
This smells to high heaven. I know also that it is not the only episode currently under investigation concerning Huckabee actions and donations by people with connections to those actions. Paired with Politico's story today and his tobacco loot yesterday do you think maybe the country might see a pattern developing about The Man from Target?
The $10,000 total contribution is interesting because I was told at a Christmas party last night a tale of a mutual friend who'd been informed she'd have to make a $10,000 political contribution if she expected to be considered for reappointment to a state commission seat she held during the Huckabee years. The friend, now dead, didn't make a contribution. She wasn't reappointed either. Maybe she misunderstood the person who made the suggestion. Maybe he was acting without authority. If there's more of this, I think we'll hear about it. Note that a Republican provided assistance to NBC on this story, as a number of them, including former Huckabee staffers, have done on other reporting. Whether there's a pay-to-play pattern or not, Huckabee's uncommon graspiness and blind spots about money are manifest.
But, maybe I'm wrong. Because ... Huckabee is such a nice guy.
UPDATE: A former Huckabee aide, Stephens Media columnist David Sanders, pours more salt into this new wound with an expansive article on the subject for National Review. Still more details. And a new piece of evidence on Huckabee fingerprints, through loyal aide Jason Brady, on the misbegotten Victory 2000 campaign fund that got the Republican Party in FEC trouble.
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