by Max Brantley
Huckabee's campaign acknowledged that the candidate delivered paid speeches since announcing his bid but declined to provide a list of venues or fees earned.These candidates say they are merely fulfilling commitments made before they entered the race. And Huckabee, master of the reverse spin, has another comeback:
The decision to give paid speeches forces the three Republican candidates to navigate a complex set of rules that, in many ways, require them and their audiences to suspend reality. Though their identity as presidential candidates is widely known — and sometimes used by organizers to attract a crowd — they're prohibited from making references to their candidacies or the presidential campaign. And federal rules forbid using campaign resources to support their private endeavors, including ancillary costs like travel and accommodations.
Yet all three have darted on and off the campaign trail to deliver their talks, sometimes sandwiching them between campaign stops. And, particularly in Carson's case, the substance of speeches can be virtually indistinguishable from remarks delivered on the stump.
"It's unusual," said Larry Noble, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center. "It's a hard thing to do and pull off without stepping over one line or another."
Candidates have sometimes found ways to make money while on the campaign trail, most frequently in royalties from books often released mid-campaign, sales of which can soar thanks to the notoriety that comes with a presidential bid. (Not to mention, campaigns often purchase their candidates' books in bulk to give away at fundraisers or other functions.) But paid speaking comes with the added element of a well-heeled sponsor that could present at least the appearance of currying influence with a would-be president.
Asked about his paid speeches in the 2016 race, Huckabee's campaign said he hadn't accepted any new gigs since announcing his candidacy and suggested that the bigger ethical question is whether elected officials in the race are bilking taxpayers by campaigning rather than doing their jobs.
"Any candidate working in the private sector probably needs to make money while they run for office — sometimes that includes paid speeches and that’s not necessarily a conflict," said Huckabee's campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley. "However, what current office holders are doing is clearly a conflict. Only in Washington is it considered ‘okay' to take the tax payer funded salary you receive to do one job, and instead, use that money to campaign for another job.”
Huckabee offered a similar explanation when POLITICO reported on his schedule of paid speeches in 2007, during the former Arkansas governor's first bid for president. At the time, he told POLITICO he had kept up his paid speaking schedule because it was an important source of income for his family.