Columns » Max Brantley

Huckabee plays PAC man

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Bill Bristow of Jonesboro hasn't made much of an impression with voters yet in his Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate, but he's caught the attention of editorialists with his war on political action committees.

PACs, said the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette following a televised debate among the Democrats, "have become the bane of American politics." The editorialist found "compelling" Bristow's theme that Arkansas's next senator should not be dependent on out-of-state contributions.

Agreed. And it will be interesting to see how compelling that argument is to the Democrat-Gazette and others should Bristow surprise us all by winning the Democratic nomination and oppose Republican Mike Huckabee in the fall.

Huckabee, you see, has a pipeline to the Beltway PAC establishment. (In fairness, let us note that Huckabee, unlike many of the Democratic candidates, has a healthy base of small contributors as well.)

It's either a brave Democrat--or one who has no hope of attracting PAC money anyway--who'll swear off PACs in the primary knowing that Huckabee awaits. The principled Democrat at least would have a tailor-made issue. Huckabee's PAC pipeline carries more of an odor than the $1,500 Attorney General Winston Bryant took from a tobacco company in 1994. To wit:

Huckabee has gone on record against state tobacco tax increases. According to the latest Senate campaign finance reports, he's received $2,000 in recent weeks from the Philip Morris PAC; $1,000 from the RJ Reynolds PAC; $1,000 from the U.S. Tobacco Company PAC, and $2,000 from Bob Douglas, a Texarkana tobacco wholesaler, and his wife.

Huckabee opposed the soft drink tax. He's received $2,000 from the Coca Cola Co. PAC; $2,570 from the Soft Drink PAC; $1,000 from the PepsiCo Concerned Citizens Fund; $2,000 from the Coca-Cola Enterprises PAC; $500 from John Bland, a Paragould bottler; $1,750 from the Robert Meek family in Fort Smith, Coke bottlers; $1,000 from the Pepsi Cola Bottlers PAC; $1,000 from a Tennessee soft drink bottler, and $1,500 from two officers of the National Soft Drink Association.

Huckabee joined major truckers in opposing the highway tax program. The American Trucking Association PAC gave him $1,000; a Fort Smith trucking company president gave him another $1,000, and a couple of smaller contributions came in from trucking interests.

Lobbyists from butchers (the PORK PAC) to bakers (the Independent Bakers Association) also have tossed money to Huckabee. Major contributors include utility PACs and executives, at least a couple with personal bones to pick with Bryant.

This isn't to suggest all contributions are direct paybacks. For most PACs, it's enough that Huckabee's a Republican, pro big business and the favorite. That should help you understand why Bryant is reluctant to cut off his own PAC transfusion from labor unions and others, even in the face of primary criticism.

Print headline: "Huckabee plays PAC man" April 26, 1996.

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