WASHINGTON – A key ally of Mike Huckabee that "went for broke" in the presidential primary campaign has ended up nearly there. But Americans for Fair Taxation says not to count it out just yet.
“We’ve had some slim times in the past, but we keep at it," said AFFT spokesman Ken Hoagland. He said the organization is in the midst of “regrouping” after massive spending campaigns in Iowa and South Carolina, and has cut its central Houston staff from 25 to 10.
“We went for broke and just about achieved it in Iowa leading up to the (August) straw poll” in Ames, Hoagland told FOXNews.com in an telephone interview on Wednesday. “We’ve laid off some staff and we’re recovering right now.”
AFFT is a prime mover of the “fair tax,” which would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and the federal income tax and establish a flat sales tax of 23 percent. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor currently running second in polling ahead of Iowa's Republican presidential primary caucuses on Jan. 3, is a big promoter of the tax plan and as such has received an enthusiastic response and turnout from AFFT supporters at his events, moreso than any other GOP candidate.
Huckabee's rise in Iowa has been credited in part to AFFT's efforts. The group has been a staple at many of the Republican candidate's campaign appearances and took an active role in getting voters to the Ames GOP straw poll that catapulted Huckabee into the spotlight.
Hoagland said recent money problems do not spell the end of the fair tax crusaders. Started in 1995 by a handful of wealthy Houston businessmen, the organization is awaiting some key funding and is already planning to roll out its once ubiquitous fair tax bus from its present place in Tennessee ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
It will continue to barrage campaign events on a grassroots level and use the media and Internet to get its fair tax message out, Hoagland said, pointing out that the group had done 560 radio interviews in the last 12 months.
AFFT's role has also given rise to reports that the Federal Election Commission is looking into claims the group violated campaign finance rules by bussing in 500 voting Iowans and 1,000 other supporters to the straw poll. AFFT's non-profit and non-partisan designation means it cannot legally endorse or contribute to any candidate.
Hoagland said the group’s efforts in Iowa, including a ferris wheel, huge tent and a country western band, were aimed at promoting the fair tax among the Republican candidates and voters, not push a particular candidate.
The group offered rides to caucus-goers but with no intent on boosting Huckabee's numbers, he said, adding that AFFT as been “very careful” to enforce the line between issue advocacy and politicking.
“(Huckabee) endorsed us, we didn’t endorse him,” Hoagland said.
Nevertheless, AFFT’s Chief Operating Officer David Polyansky has left AFFT to work on the Huckabee campaign and supporters remain enthusiastic for the former Arkansas governor.
The AFFT website, FairTax.org, boasts a candidate scorecard, at the top of which is Huckabee. Every Republican in the presidential mix except former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani supports the fair tax proposal.