Gifts solicited for Gov. Huckabee 

Housewarming to ease "transition," spokesman says.

Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, are registered for home furnishing gifts at Target and Dillard’s department stores as they prepare to leave the Governor’s Mansion in January and move into a house they recently purchased in North Little Rock.

Gifts requested at Dillard’s for Janet and Mike Huckabee include 24 place settings of Lenox “Holiday Nouveau” china and stemware (from $14 to $40 a piece), Biddeford bed linens (king and queen bed skirts from $89 to $99), an oval pot rack ($60), an asparagus pot ($30), a KitchenAid mixer ($300) and a Jack LaLanne power juicer ($100).

The Jack LaLanne juicer is also on the Target list, along with a Kitchen Essentials 12-piece cookware set ($250) and cookie sheet ($20), Fieldcrest bed linens (from $30 to $144), rugs (from $25 to $150), and table linens, potholders and kitchen towels (from $2 to $13) and more.

Target’s registry also notes: “Message from the couple: Target GiftCards are welcome.” They can be purchased in amounts from $10 to $1,000.

The story broke Friday on our Arkansas Daily Blog (www.arkansasblog.com). We requested, but did not receive, a comment from the Huckabees. For one thing, though registries seemed to be set up for the governor and his wife, nothing on the registries said so explicitly.

Stephens Media followed our story that day and confirmed through the governor’s press spokesperson that the registries were indeed for the Huckabees, reportedly set up by “friends” of the first lady to help her make the “transition” to private life. The Stephens account said:

The term-limited governor leaves office in January, and friends of Janet Huckabee created the registries at Dillard’s and Target stores to help facilitate their transition to private life, Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart said Friday.

The Huckabees purchased a 7,000-square-foot home in North Little Rock this year.

“Some ladies who are friends of Janet’s are giving her a housewarming party,” Stewart said.

Arkansas law prohibits public officials from receiving gifts worth more than $100, unless the office-holder can prove that the gift came via a relationship “independent of his or her official status.” To ascertain the nature of the relationship, the Arkansas Ethics Commission may examine “such factors as when the relationship began (i.e., before or after the public servant obtained his or her office or position), the prior history of gift giving between the individuals, whether the gift was given in connection with a holiday or other special occasion, and whether the same gift was given to other public servants.”

Arkansas public officials also are required to report the “source, date, description, and a reasonable estimate of the fair market value of each gift of more than $100 received by the public servant or his or her spouse” in their annual Statement of Financial Interest, which is filed in January.

One of the 17 exceptions to the gift ban is “wedding presents and engagement gifts.”

The Huckabees’ gifts are listed at both stores under a wedding registry, although Dillard’s shows an event date of Nov. 14, and Target has Nov. 16. The Huckabees already have married each other twice, most recently on Valentine’s Day in 2005, when they upgraded their union to a covenant marriage. Gov. Huckabee’s public calendar lists no housewarming events on those dates, though he had several appearances scheduled, including a book signing.

In late 2000, just before leaving the White House, President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, came under heavy criticism for registering for gifts to furnish new homes in Washington, D.C., and Chappaqua, N.Y. The Republican-led U.S. House Government Reform Committee in 2001 opened an investigation and found that while the Clintons received more than $75,000 in furniture, china and cutlery, they did not violate federal laws. Hillary Clinton was under additional scrutiny for her method of soliciting the gifts via a department store’s “wish list” registry, because she was a candidate for the U.S. Senate, but since she wasn’t yet a senator, she was allowed to accept them.

Gov. Huckabee has said he is considering a presidential run, but he has not established a formal campaign organization.

The Huckabees have been in the news over past gifts. The governor reported tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts during his first years in office. He was forced, after first saying the furniture was a personal gift, to disavow ownership of some $70,000 in furnishings provided for private quarters at the Governor’s Mansion by cotton planter Boe Adams. Questions were raised about the legality of the governor accepting such a gift. The Ethics Commission investigated him for other gifts he’s received as governor, including a canoe provided by a soft drink bottler. He also has used his inaugural funds to pay for personal articles for the family, including clothing for his wife. Additionally, in his first year in office, records show he used Mansion expense funds for personal expenses, a prohibited practice.

The most famous end-of-tenure gift to an Arkansas governor was the money contributed to pay for a mansion Orval E. Faubus built in Huntsville. According to biographer Roy Reed, Faubus invited contributions to build the expansive house designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones, and most of the money came from people who owed him for political favors.

In the Stephens Media article, state Sen. Gilbert Baker, the state Republican chairman, defended the solicitation of gifts for the Huckabees. “I’m glad you let me know about it so I can get online and buy him something,” Baker said.

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