MS-Gov Haley Barbour’s Ethical Wide Stance

The following was written by Matthew Krell for Cotton Mouth.  He writes at Street Prophets and Daily Kos under uID mkrell.

Haley Barbour has led, by most accounts, a fairly charmed life.  He’s gone from being a Republican in a single-party Democratic state, to being the second Republican governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction.  Along the way, Gov. Barbour has been chairman of the Republican National Committee and the lead partner in the most influential lobbying firm on the Republican side of the aisle.

But Barbour may have reached his apogee, and although I know it’s hardly Christian of me, I think his star may be about to fall – and it’s about time.

When Barbour was elected governor, he placed his assets in a blind trust.  For those of you who don’t know, a blind trust is a mechanism whereby a property owner can receive benefits from their property without having to abandon offices of public trust that might have a role to play in determining the value of their property.  In a blind trust, the trustee manages the beneficiary’s property, but the beneficiary can receive no information regarding the disposition of the property – they just receive the payouts to which the trust structure entitles them.

In Gov. Barbour’s case, he was entitled to $25,000 a month in payouts.  His initial trust included shares in his old lobbying firm worth over three-quarters of a million dollars.  Here’s what’s interesting, to me, at least:

What we have here is that some times Barbour has made statements that he did hold an equity position in the parent company of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers — now very much in the news for its representation of the Iraq political ambitions of former Iraq Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi — and at other times he said he had severed all ties to the firm but was getting a “retirement payment.”
  – Steve Clemons, The Atlantic

As Clemons points out in that same piece, Barbour’s old firm doesn’t provide retirement benefits.  So, either the Governor is receiving a benefit that no one else at BGR is getting (which might be legal, but certainly isn’t ethical), or the firm is making payments into his blind trust in return for some continuing service.

What sort of continuing service could the sitting Governor of Mississippi be providing to a lobbying firm?  Nothing good for the people of Mississippi, I’m sure.  But let’s not assume the worst.  Let’s assume that Gov. Barbour is simply receiving a pension benefit from BGR that no other member or employee of the firm gets.  Because you know, that’s totally fair.

But that’s not the end of the Governor’s ethical lapses.  Much has been made of the Governor’s nephews’ lobbying business in the Great State.  Particularly impressive has been the efficacy with which their client’s causes have made progress through the Legislature.  But more important than that, the Governor has seen fit to appoint family members time and time again to various governmental commissions that are overseeing the recosntruction of the state in the wake of Katrina.

Bloomberg News points out that the Barbour family members that have been overseeing Katrina reconstruction have been paid for lobbying services during their time on the panels.  Interestingly enough, the clients that paid the Governor’s nephews during this period managed to benefit from the work that they did on recovery, to the tune of almost three million dollars.  Isn’t that a strange coincidence?

I’m not so naive as to think that government doesn’t work via the personal connections between people.  As the governor’s lawyer puts it, Barbour “naturally is not going to be disinclined to help [his nephews] whenever he can.”  And I accept that.  The problem is the interconnectedness of the remunerative relationships.  The way that the Governor’s family gets appointed to help make recommendations for storm recovery – and the recommendations just magically happen to throw a lot of business to a lobbying client of the family.  There’s just something about the process that stinks.

And that stink is starting to stick to Haley Barbour.  The Clarion-Ledger is pissed about the monumental waste that Katrina recovery has involved.  Bloomberg’s Tim Burger is knocking the ball out of the park with his reporting on this, and the legalistic arguments of Barbour’s representatives ring hollow in a state that has seen two years of bull on the question of recovery.

If John Arthur Eaves is smart – and he must be, or he wouldn’t have been so successful, all evidence on the campaign trail to the contrary – he will hammer Barbour’s unwillingness to talk.  He will ask, what is Barbour hiding?  If there’s nothing to hide, why won’t Barbour let us see?

If Eaves can make this issue have legs, he may be able to make a race of it.

Cross-posted at Cotton Mouth