Columns » Max Brantley

Moonlighting at the Mansion

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Rising Gov. Mike Huckabee is, for the most part, off to a good start. He's chosen top staff members from the Republican mainstream. He's endorsed tax relief, but responsibly indicated some reservations about immediately removing food from the 4.5-cent state sales tax, given the potentially drastic impact.

But Huckabee disappoints with his reluctance to get out of the public speaking business. His wishes are clear. He protests that such payments would be legal and cites Mario Cuomo's moonlighting, as if that's relevant here.

In 1995, Huckabee made nearly $75,000 in public speaking and media consulting fees, in addition to his official pay. That's a big jump from previous years, thanks to the marketability of his public office. He'd be even more marketable as a governor. Which is exactly the problem. The office shouldn't appear to be for rent.

The Arkansas governor is paid about $61,000 per year. The house, utilities, car, airplane and personal staff are free and a governor isn't taxed for these perks. A job in the private sector with similar untaxed benefits would be worth more than $100,000 a year, easy.

It is also a full-time job. The chief executive who maintains a busy moonlighting schedule risks the appearance of insufficient focus on public duties. This was a deserved criticism of the globe-trotting Bill Clinton. Significant difference: Clinton took no payola.

Huckabee also risks legal entanglements by peddling his patter.

If he continues to fill pulpits in Arkansas for money, for example, he better take care not to use public cars or state trooper drivers for transportation to private paying jobs.

It's worth noting that legislators aren't allowed to accept speaking fees. The governor may, it's true. But the practice in Arkansas has been for chief executives to have but one job. None of our recent lawyer-governors continued a legal practice in office. Imagine the uproar if they had.

If Huckabee persists in moonlighting, he should, at a minimum, open up. In the past, Huckabee has only disclosed the barest details about his outside business on state financial disclosure forms. He never reported the specific sources of the money to the state. Should Huckabee decide to operate a gubernatorial speaker's bureau, he has to do better than that.

Huckabee's hesitance to swear off the honoraria underscores what seems to be a weakness when it comes to money. The green stuff has caused him recurrent controversies--the paychecks from campaign funds to him and his wife and, most recently, questionable use of money in his lieutenant governor's campaign.

In the matter of moonlighting, Huckabee should heed his own words. It was the advice he gave Gov. Tucker while complaining this week about Tucker's 11th-hour appointments to state commissions: "I hope we will always go beyond doing just what's legal and do what's right."

Print headline: "Moonlighting at the Mansion" June 28, 1996.

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