Columns » Max Brantley

Pay now, pay later

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You know by now that Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, raised hackles among Democratic legislators by aggressively campaigning for Republican opponents.

The Democrats were foolish to expect Huckabee to stay out of legislative politics. Huckabee was foolish to vow a hands-off approach while doing anything but. The interesting thing is how little was accomplished.

Final reports won't be in until December. But by Oct. 15, the state Republican Party had given $70,000 to 20 state legislative candidates and county GOP committees kicked in another $20,000. Credit more than an assist to Huckabee. The party raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for campaign war chests through fund-raisers honoring or featuring Huckabee.

On top of the direct party contributions, the state party paid for mass mailings of letters signed by Huckabee. (Unhappy Democrats are asking the state Ethics Commission whether the mailing cost, on top of maximum $5,000 party contributions, amounted to a violation of spending limits.)

And then there was Huckabee's own money.

From a $140,000 surplus in the account of his disbanded U.S. Senate campaign, Huckabee passed out $10,000 to Republican candidates. He still had $23,000 on hand Oct. 15, which may also have aided Republican candidates.

Six of Huckabee's contributions went to legislative candidates, losers all. He put $1,000 into Sharon Trusty's losing race to Tom Kennedy for Lu Hardin's Russellville Senate seat; to Scott Wallace, who lost to Jim Argue in a race to keep Jim Keet's Senate seat in the GOP; to John Turner, who failed at beating Gene Roebuck in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jerry Bookout of Jonesboro; and $1,000 to Mary Harvey, who failed to unseat veteran Sen. Bud Canada of Hot Springs. (Harvey also got $5,000 from the State GOP and nearly $4,000 from a variety of county GOP committees. Do you think Canada might be less likely now to join hands with Huckabee on a watered-down version of Canada's old dream to remove the sales tax on groceries?)

On the House side, Huckabee kicked in $500 to Saline County JP Lois Burks, who had hoped to move into Larry Mitchell's old House seat, and to Buddy Lemons, bested by George French in a three-way race for a vacant House seat from the Monticello area.

(In answer to a question: It is legal to make personal political contributions from excess federal campaign funds. It is illegal to make individual political contributions from excess state campaign funds.)

In all, the unprecedented Huckabee-GOP campaign netted a gain of only one seat in the legislature. But it was critical in one race: Gunner DeLay's upset of incumbent Rep. B.G. Hendrix in Fort Smith. Not only did DeLay benefit from $6,000 from GOP committees and a direct mailing by Huckabee, the state Party itself bought TV time attacking Hendrix. This was typical of the so-called party building activities that became epidemic in both parties this election season.

Print headline: "Pay now, pay later" November 29, 1996.

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