Gov. Haley Barbour, who leads one of the
poorest states in the union, made millions as a well-connected
Washington lobbyist for a broad cross-section of corporate America.
That is no secret. But now, as the Republican runs for
re-election, he is facing increasingly loud demands from the
Democrats that he disclose details about his holdings, including
whether he has financial ties to the high-powered Washington firm
that still bears his name.
"What is the governor hiding? Why won't he release his
financial information?" asked his Democratic challenger, John
Arthur Eaves Jr., a 41-year-old trial lawyer who has made his own
millions by suing corporations.
Eaves and other critics have been hammering on these questions
for weeks. On Wednesday, Lanny Griffith, a longtime Barbour friend
and current chief executive officer of the Barbour Griffith and
Rogers lobbying firm, issued a news release saying Barbour "has
not been involved in any aspect of the business affairs of the
firm" since becoming governor.
Griffith said Barbour receives a monthly retirement or severance
payment from the firm. Griffith didn't disclose the amount, but
said: "That payment is fixed and does not change regardless of the
financial performance of the firm."
Barbour, who was political director for the Reagan White House
in the mid-1980s and chairman of the Republican National Committee
from 1993 to 1997, said he put his assets in a blind trust when he
became governor of his home state in 2004. He said it's a common
practice for federal office holders to put their financial
interests into blind trusts.
The state Ethics Commission has ruled that Barbour does not have
to disclose his holdings. The Associated Press and other news
organizations have requested copies of financial documents Barbour
filed with the commission. This week, the commission denied those
requests, citing a state law that lets politicians decide how much
of their information to release to the public.
Barbour said disclosure would make the blind trust pointless
because he would then know the details of his investments. He
dismisses the criticism from Eaves, who has never held elected
"When a candidate has nothing to offer, when he's got no
record, he's got no program, he's got no plan, he's got no facts,
he's got no ideas, then all he does is attack the other guy," said
It is not at all clear whether the attacks will make a
Barbour appears to be on track to win a second term in November,
largely because he is credited with using his clout to bring the
state billions of federal dollars since Hurricane Katrina laid
waste to the coast two years ago.
Parts the Deep South have long had a pronounced populist streak,
with some Mississippi politicians filling their speeches with
soak-the-rich rhetoric. Many trial lawyers see Mississippi as a
good place to sue big corporations.
But personal wealth doesn't automatically hinder a candidate's
chances in Mississippi. The state has a record of electing
politicians who live like the rich - Barbour; Sen. Trent Lott, who
owned a stately, 150-year-old seaside home until Katrina washed it
away; and former Gov. Kirk Fordice, who became a millionaire with
his family's engineering business.
In fact, Barbour's challenger has a Jackson law office decorated
in a style Louis XIV would appreciate, with European antiques and
"Mississippians, they don't care about who's rich and who's
poor," said David Sansing, a retired history professor at the
University of Mississippi.
"We've always been diverted by some issue. It used to be race.
I don't think race is now the overriding issue. The Christian right
and `family values' - that supersedes all other issues now."
In unseating Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2003, Barbour
touted his own Washington insider status but said Mississippi would
be his only client. Barbour's supporters boast about his national
"What Haley can do is he can walk into any office in Washington
and everybody knows that he's there and everybody knows who he
is," said Nell Frisbie, past president of the Federation of
Republican Women in coastal Hancock County.
Barbour keeps his national political connections alive by
traveling to other states to raise money for Republicans. He has
been mentioned as a potential 2008 vice presidential nominee, but
says he's on "hurricane duty."
Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, making his own
campaign stop in Mississippi last month, said Barbour "will be on
the top of everybody's list" for a running mate.
Giuliani talked about how he and Barbour served during crisis -
the governor during Katrina and Giuliani as mayor of New York on
Sept. 11, 2001. The two men have another connection. Chris Henick,
who's from the same small town as the Mississippi governor, used to
work for Barbour Griffith and Rogers and is now a top strategist in
the Giuliani campaign.
Mississippi has weak ethics laws that require politicians to
disclose few details about their personal finances, and the laws
don't specifically address the issue of blind trusts.
The state Ethics Commission director is Tom Hood, the younger
brother of Jim Hood - the Democratic state attorney general who's
also up for re-election this year.
Since August 2006, the attorney general's office has exchanged
terse letters with the governor's personal attorney, Ed Brunini.
Jim Hood had demanded that Barbour publicly disclose what's in the
blind trust, administered by one of the governor's longtime banker
On April 6, the Ethics Commission - with members appointed by
the governor and others - issued a confidential advisory opinion to
Brunini and Barbour. On Aug. 31, Barbour let the commission
publicly release the document.
The opinion, signed by Tom Hood, said the commission concluded
that Barbour's listing only earnings from a blind trust fulfilled
requirements for politicians' disclosure of economic interests.
But, it also said the commission "could not offer any opinion
regarding a potential conflict of interest without knowing current,
detailed facts about (Barbour's) financial or family interest."
Before a recent gubernatorial debate at a Biloxi theater, a
member of the local Democratic executive committee paced outside
with a hand-lettered sign that said: "Barbour Wants Kids to Smoke,
The protester, Renick Taylor, said he was upset that the
governor vetoed bills that would have raised taxes on cigarettes
and lowered Mississippi's highest-in-the-nation sales tax on
Barbour lobbied for tobacco companies when dozens of states,
including Mississippi, were suing them in the 1990s to recover the
costs of treating sick smokers. Barbour Griffith and Rogers' blue
chip client list includes cigarette makers.
"That company still represents big tobacco and he's vetoing
taxes on tobacco," Taylor said. "That is a conflict of
Barbour, for his part, has said he vetoed the tax measures
because he opposes raising taxes and because there was too little
information available about the potential budget impact of reducing
the 7 percent grocery tax.
Democratic legislators tried unsuccessfully this year to pass a
bill that would have forced Barbour to disclose his personal
Former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, a Democrat who served from
January 1988 to January 1992, criticizes Barbour for not being more
forthcoming about personal financial information.
"Barbour could set all this to rest in an instant by releasing
his income taxes," said Mabus, who has raised campaign money for
Eaves. "The only reason I can think of that he doesn't is that