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Smart Talk Aug. 11 

Follow the bouncing bucks (and Huck) Now that Gov. Mike Huckabee is exploring (at least unofficially) a 2008 presidential race, you can expect him to spend time on the road getting exposure. Problem: He can’t readily charge taxpayers for all the travel, though some official functions can be laid off on us. Huckabee’s Conservative Leadership for Arkansas PAC, theoretically limited to supporting candidates for state office, shelled out $3,800 for travel expenses in the past 12 months — though Huckabee says they weren’t for his travel. Its filing in the Secretary of State’s office also shows it paid $5,200 to the firm of Huckabee political consultant Dick Dresner; Dresner was quoted Thursday as saying the payments could have been for past-due bills, and Friday as saying he was misquoted. In all, CLAPAC raised $73,000 and spent about $45,000 in the past year, but only $2,000 on political candidates. Huckabee doesn’t have to rely on CLAPAC alone. His other money-raising operations: the Next Step Foundation, which promotes his political agenda, and Healthy America PAC, which he created just last month. Bill Clinton enjoyed corporate support for some of his exploratory travels and it looks like Huckabee knows how to play that game, too. For example: Wal-Mart Stores provided $5,216 worth of airfare on June 27 to fly Huckabee and aides Chad Gallagher and Brian Garrett to the National Governors Association conference. Less than a month later, Huckabee appointees on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission provided the crucial votes in a 3-2 approval to grant Sam’s Club in Fayetteville its unique liquor permit. Conspiracy theorists note that Carrie Thum, one of the lobbyists filing the Wal-Mart expenditure report, had reported on the eve of the ABC hearing about a recent chance encounter at the Capital Hotel bar with eventual pro-Wal-Mart ABC votes, J.J. Vigneault and Ron Fuller. Vigneault has headed both CLAPAC and Next Step; Fuller is a former campaign chairman for Huckabee. We’ll be looking for other hidden nuggets in the long trail to 2008. Thinking right Arkansas now has a think tank of its own — the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform — and judging from the person who was hired as director, it will be a conservative one. That will increase its chances of being quoted in the media. Extra!, the publication of the media watchdog group FAIR, studied media citations of think tanks in 2004 and found that among the 25 think tanks most often cited, 50 percent of the citations were of groups that were either clearly conservative (the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute) or right-leaning (the RAND Corp.). Thirty-three percent of the citations were of think tanks best described as centrist (the Brookings Institution). Only 16 percent of the citations were of groups that could fairly be described as liberal or left-leaning (the Center for Public Integrity). Of the 10 think tanks cited most often, six were conservative or right-leaning, three were centrist and one (the Economic Policy Institute) was liberal.
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