No Free Speech From Huckabee

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YCLA recipient Stephen Ryan receives congratulations from Mike Huckabee.

It’s not often that an awards ceremony for young people gets international attention. But that’s what happened when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) took a weekend break from the presidential nomination race in February to speak at the 2008 Young Caymanian Leadership Awards (YCLA) on the Caribbean’s Grand Cayman Island.

Huckabee delivered a televised 20-minute motivational speech at the black-tie event, which honored five finalists, ages 21 to 35, who were recognized by the Caymanian Leadership Foundation as “making a significant contribution to society and who, through their achievements and actions, serve as positive role models for the youth of Cayman.”

The event was booked months before Huckabee became the next-to-last man standing in the GOP primary race. His campaign said he kept the engagement in the midst of the race because he needed the money.

The foundation would not say what it paid Huckabee. He is represented by the Tennessee-based Premiere Speakers Bureau. His 2006 financial disclosure forms show $50,000 in income from speaking honoraria; his highest speaking fee that year was $17,000, according to The New York Times. The speakers’ bureau says Huckabee is not accepting new speaking invitations and does not have a set fee.

The foundation did say that corporate sponsors – which include the Dart Foundation, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Tibbetts Family Foundation – covered the cost. Past YCLA speakers include former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and actor James Caviezel.

Huckabee spoke at the organization’s inaugural ceremony in 2000, said Melissa Wolfe, the foundation’s coordinator.

In the United States, most youth-focused nonprofits get celebrity speakers for free, either because it makes them feel good or because the nonprofits lured them in by giving them awards. For example:

• First lady Laura Bush and California first lady Maria Shriver spoke for free at the 2007 National Promise of America Founders’ Awards. They were honorees, according to Colleen Wilber, senior director of media relations for America’s Promise.

• Kate Snow, co-anchor of ABC News’ weekend edition of “Good Morning America,” volunteered as mistress of ceremonies at the Big Brothers Big Sisters National Conference banquet last June. She is a former Big Sister.

• Past recipients of The National Child Labor Committee’s annual Lewis Hine Awards for Service to Children and Youth include Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of whom gave speeches at the ceremonies for no charge.

• The annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is willing to pay celebrities, although many of them ask that their fees be donated to charity, said event spokesman Harold Banks. Banks has rounded up several pop culture darlings to speak, including Peyton Manning, Ted Danson, Whoopie Goldberg and Magic Johnson.

“Many celebrities turn us down,” Banks said. “But we try to reach out to people who are involved in community activities and who the kids will recognize.”

• On the other hand, former President Bill Clinton earned $150,000 to speak at the Boys & Girls Club of Long Beach, Calif., in March 2007, according to J.R. Dzubak, regional service director of Boys & Girls Clubs of America-Pacific region.

Contact: Caymanian Leadership Foundation,