Breaking with tradition for presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee is continuing to accept paid speaking engagements in the thick of his insurgent presidential campaign, although churches get a break from his usual fee of up to $25,000.
It's not surprising that Huckabee, as a former Arkansas governor who has wowed audiences in debates, would charge for speeches.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Huckabee's rivals for the nomination, made a fortune doing just that.
But Giuliani and other major candidates have put their paid speaking careers completely on hold to focus on the flurry of early nominating contests.
Huckabee, though, is still accepting gigs — often on his signature topic of health and fitness.
“Unlike the members of the Senate or Congress who continue to get their paycheck and get a taxpayer-funded salary, and unlike people who are independently wealthy, if I don’t work, I don’t eat,” Huckabee told Politico on Wednesday in a phone interview from Iowa.
Huckabee said he has two or three paid speeches scheduled in February and had two or three in November.
He said “a couple in March are scheduled right now,” but none in December or January because the campaign “has just eaten up” his time.
“I’d like some more, if you wanna give me some publicity — tell ’em to call the [speakers’] bureau," Huckabee joshed.
Huckabee said speaking income “is all I have,” in addition to money from writing.
“Otherwise, I don’t make my house payment or pay my insurance,” he said. “The trouble is, when you’re considered self-employed as I am, the taxes eat the first 40 percent of it. By the time I do that and pay expenses, and then there’s about a 25 percent commission that goes to the agency, there’s a whole lot less of it that actually gets to me. Still, it’s good. I’d like for it to be even more.”
Huckabee said he will appear before universities. He said most of his speeches fall into two groups.
He said the first is “health care, health policy and the issue that I was speaking about for the last several years — weight loss and personal health management, or the broader issue of employer health management.”
He said the second is “fundraising events for institutions, like a university or something like that, where it’s more of a motivational speech for that specific institution.”
Huckabee said that he charges no set fee for churches and said they are not handled by the speakers’ bureau that books most of his appearances.
“There is no fee that I have for a church — none,” he said. “Occasionally a church has their own policy and they may provide an honorarium. But I’ve never asked, and I don’t, and that’s not part of the deal. When I’m speaking in a church in the course of the campaign, I don’t do it at all. Even if they offered, I wouldn’t.”
Nevertheless, his approach to speeches leads to some unusual situations for a presidential candidate.
On Sunday, for instance, Huckabee spoke at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, an appearance that received heavy news coverage because of anti-Catholic remarks by a pastor there.
He said the appearance was arranged when “the pastor called me personally.”
Huckabee says the organizers insisted on giving him $10,000, which he donated to his own church — the 40-acre Church at Rock Creek, in Little Rock — along with his other tithes and offerings.
“They said they had already prepared it,” he said. “I said, ‘No, that’s not necessary — just give it to your mission. But they said, ‘Well, we’ve already done it.’ I said, ‘I didn’t expect that — it’s not part of the deal.’‘We want to do it. We do it for everyone who comes. It’s our policy.’ There was never an expectation on my part.”
Money aside, Huckabee’s hosts can have their tax-free status threatened if they were to advocate explicitly for him.
He said he’s careful “that it’s not in any way associated with the campaign.”
“We’re very explicit, even in the written contract, that no mention is made of my campaign,” he said.
“There’s no advocacy for my campaign or against someone else’s. In the introduction, even when I’m presented, that’s kept separate.”
Opponents pointed out that Huckabee referred on Sunday to the well-received holiday campaign ad where he referred to “the birth of Christ.”
“I think I said something like, ‘And I want to say to all of you, Merry Christmas — I know that got me in trouble here recently,'” he recalled.
“That’s all I said. Now, people can interpret that any way they want to. But I never said: There was a commercial on TV.”
The question of paid speeches came to light when Huckabee critics provided the Politico and the blog Red State with an e-mail chain from Huckabee’s former speakers’ bureau, in which a representative appears to offer church appearances for $25,000 each.
Huckabee said the agency, International Speakers Bureau of Dallas, is no longer authorized to act on his behalf.
In the e-mail conversation, a person offering to hire Huckabee for a public appearance was told Dec. 20: "Due to the ongoing presidential campaign, Mr. Huckabee is not accepting speaking engagements."
The person who submitted the request as "Randy" says he "used a fake account and said I had a large church that wanted him to come speak within the next month."
When "Randy" mentioned a church, he got a different response.
"I would be happy to help you with Mike Huckabee," the bureau responded.
"He charges a minimum of $25,000 per engagement plus expenses, and he can not address anything to do with his running for president. Do you have a date in mind for your event?"
Huckabee says his only agency now is Premiere Speakers Bureau of Franklin, Tenn.
He said he earlier had International and several others, and Premiere “asked me to do an exclusive arrangement with them, which means you just deal with one agency.”
He said the others can book him, but have to work through Premiere.
Red State ran a critical blog entry about the issue, headlined, “Huckabee Dips Into Offering Plates From Campaign Trail.”
“This is totally different than what has kind of been out there in the blogosphere,” Huckabee said.
“They key thing is the bureaus never, ever schedule churches.”