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The Insider, Dec. 13

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Action America revealed

Newsweek put presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on the cover in a generally favorable profile this week, but the story included a bombshell. Former Huckabee consultants J.J. Vigneault and Greg Graves revealed that Action America, the nonprofit through which Huckabee kept secret outside income sources during his early days as lieutenant governor, was funded in large part by tobacco money.

Action America, set up in 1994, raised $119,961 and paid $71,500 directly to Huckabee, who has long refused to reveal the sources of the money. He continues to insist to Newsweek, “It was an upfront, legitimate effort to travel around and drive up interest in politics.”

But Graves and Vigneault, who both worked for R.J. Reynolds, said Reynolds paid $40,000 to the fund. They say, according to Newsweek's account, that the company “hoped to use Huckabee's political skills to drum up grass-roots opposition to the national health-care plan then being pushed by First Lady Hillary Clinton. The idea was that Huckabee would fly around the country persuading evangelicals to come out against the Clinton proposal, which included a cigarette tax.”

Smoking gun

Vigneault told Newsweek the idea was hatched at the Dallas airport when Huckabee mentioned his personal financial troubles. He told Newsweek the group was incorporated in Texas because “we didn't want anybody to find out about it.”

Huckabee insisted to Newsweek that there was nothing illegal about Action America and insisted he knew nothing about the tobacco money or where most of the money came from. But Vigneault told Newsweek the details of the fund were worked out at Huckabee's Little Rock apartment in the presence of a Reynolds executive who Huckabee even made step outside to smoke.
Quoting Newsweek: “Huckabee, choosing his words with Clintonian precision, says he doesn't remember a thing about the alleged get-together in his apartment: ‘I don't recall those meetings. I'm not saying they never happened. But I don't have any recollection of them,' he tells NEWSWEEK. ‘If they can show me pictures of me there, that might help.' Graves, who was president of Action America, told Newsweek he was “incredulous” to hear that Huckabee denied knowing where the money came from. “I don't know how he could have not known,” he says.

Wrongly named

Two Little Rock lawyers say their names were wrongly listed as supporters of Circuit Judge Rita Gruber in a fund-raising letter sent by the Gruber campaign. She's running for the state Court of Appeals against the incumbent, Judge Wendell Griffen.

The letter listed more than 250 lawyers said to be Gruber supporters, among them Dick Downing and Steve Shults. Downing said he was embarrassed and “a bit upset” when he received the letter because he's been a friend of Griffen's since college and is supporting him in the judge's race. Downing said he wasn't consulted about his name being on Gruber's letter. Informed of Downing's comments, Gruber said she must have misunderstood a conversation she'd had with Downing some time back. She said she'd call him and if he didn't want his name on the letter it would be removed.

Shults said he received the letter Nov. 28. “I did not authorize my name to be used,” he said. “I don't let any judicial candidate use my name on campaign material.” He said he talked with Gruber on Dec. 3 and she apologized and told him there'd been a misunderstanding and his name would not appear on any future campaign material.

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