Over mocking objections from their own staff, two top Democrats on the politically divided Federal Election Commission voted to investigate one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for joking that he hoped supporters would shower him with million dollar contributions.
In the latest display of FEC Democratic efforts to regulate speech and target Republicans, Commissioners Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub backed a complaint against Huckabee, who made the joke during his May 2015 presidential candidacy announcement.
At that event, he said, "I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people across America who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground. If you want to give a million dollars, please do it, but most can't."
He later told the FEC it was a joke, and the FEC staff report on the issue noted that Huckabee even changed his demeanor when he said it to reinforce that he wasn't serious.
"We conclude that an objective listener would not reasonably have understood that Huckabee in fact solicited million-dollar contributions. Rather, he appeared, to be making a humorous aside in the course of his speech," said the just released staff report that recommended that a complaint against the former Arkansas governor be dismissed.
But when the vote — also just released — was taken, Ravel and Weintraub balked. All three Republicans and the third Democrat on the FEC voted to dismiss the complaint.
The two Democrats backed legal enforcement of the claim that Huckabee was actively urging supporters to contribute more than the legal limits of $2,700. The complaint against Huckabee said that he was actually soliciting big dollar contributions for an affiliated political action committee, but he never mentioned it in his speech.
In mocking language, the FEC staff noted in its report how it was clearly a joke. Said the report:
Huckabee expressly dismissed the idea that members of his audience would provide large contributions and instead encouraged his listeners to consider contributing $15 or $25 a month. Huckabee then visibly altered his facial expression and tone and added that, "[i]f you want to give a million dollars, please do it." Indeed, while making the aside, his demeanor changed in a way that further would have reasonably evidenced to his audience that his remarks were not serious or intended to be taken literally — he closes his eyes, pauses, shrugs, and smiles — and may in the audience laughed.
"Consequently, given the context in which Huckabee made his statement, a reasonable person would have believed that Huckabee was not in earnest when he stated that "[i]f you want to give a million dollars, please to it."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org