Huckabee Request for $1 Million a Joke, FEC Finds

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

May 26 — The Federal Election Commission has concluded Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was only kidding when he said last May during the announcement of his candidacy: “If you want to give a million dollars, please do it.”

The six FEC commissioners voted unanimously to follow staff recommendations and find “no reason to believe” Hucakbee violated campaign finance laws, according to documents released by the FEC May 25.

A complaint against the former Arkansas governor was filed by the liberal nonprofit American Democracy Legal Fund. It charged that Huckabee's comment was intended to raise money for a super political action committee supporting his candidacy, called Pursuing America's Greatness.

Campaign finance laws bar federal candidates from soliciting contributions larger than the FEC's “hard money” contribution limits. The limit for an individual contribution to a candidate currently is set at $2,700 per election.

Huckabee dropped out of the Republican presidential primary campaign in February after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses. His campaign committee raised and spent a total of about $4.3 million, while the super PAC supporting him raised and spent nearly $5 million.

The super PAC's biggest contributor was Ronald Cameron, chief executive of the chicken processing company Mountaire Corp., who gave $3 million.

Humor a ‘Saving Grace.'

An FEC general counsel's report analyzing the Huckabee enforcement case—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6939—noted that an attorney for Huckabee asserted the former governor's statement about giving $1 million “was a joke, not an actual solicitation of a million-dollar contribution.”

The response of behalf of Huckabee from attorney Douglas Chalmers of the firm Chalmers Pak Burch & Adams quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt as observing that “the saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualities—a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.” While the complainants against Huckabee have neither, Chalmers said, the FEC was obligated to view their allegations reasonably and in context.

Chalmers explained that, during his presidential announcement speech, Huckabee said his campaign would not be funded by wealthy individuals, but by Americans who live modestly and could afford contributions of $15 or $25 per month.

“Looking down then at his lifelong friends,” Chalmers added, “and with a big smile, [Huckabee] then jokingly added, ‘now, rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it.' ”

The FEC counsel's report concluded: “Although Huckabee's remarks literally called for a listener to make a contribution in an amount outside of the limits of the Federal Election Campaign Act …, taken in context, we conclude that Huckabee made his remark in jest and that an objectively reasonable observer would have understood as much.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For More Information

Documents in closed FEC enforcement cases are available online at http://eqs.fec.gov/eqs/searcheqs.