Skip to content

Barbour Intends To Keep Lobbying

Critics Call Move ‘Totally Inappropriate’

Even as he edges closer to becoming a candidate for governor of Mississippi in November’s off-year election, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour isn’t ready to give up his day job.

One of Washington’s most influential lobbyists, Barbour has already decided to continue representing powerful clients such as BellSouth Telecommunications, Brown and Williamson Tobacco and Microsoft throughout the fall campaign, according to a partner in Barbour’s lobbying firm.

Ed Rogers, who has been working with Barbour and Lanny Griffith since the three first launched the firm in 1996, said in an interview that Barbour has no plans to cut his ties with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers if he formally enters the Mississippi gubernatorial race.

“Haley doing this for a few months will not mean a whole lot to the firm,” said Rogers, a White House official under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. “He doesn’t have to separate from the firm until he gets elected.”

Rogers, vice chairman of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, added: “We have been gearing up for this since the middle of last summer. The firm and our people and our clients have all been exposed to the notion that Haley is going to run for governor since last summer, when he started spending a lot more time” in Mississippi.

Barbour’s decision to remain an active lobbyist while campaigning full-time surprised campaign watchdog groups, who argued that Barbour should cease any lobbying activities during a campaign.

“It’s totally inappropriate,” Matt Keller of Common Cause said of Barbour’s plan to be both candidate and influence peddler simultaneously.

“You can imagine a scenario where Barbour is being paid by his clients, who then in a couple of months have business before the governor of Mississippi. I would think Haley Barbour has enough money where he can suspend his lobbying efforts for a couple of months.”

Some campaign finance experts, however, strongly disagreed with that position and noted that there have been several precedents at the federal level of lobbyists seeking elected office.

“The fact is that lobbyists run for office,” said Jan Baran, a prominent Republican campaign lawyer. “It’s not common, but they do it. They have to comply with the lobbying laws and campaign finance laws. Other than that, they have the right to make a living.”

Barbour, who has privately told friends that he needs to raise as much as $8 million to take on Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, will have to make a formal announcement of his candidacy sometime in the next several weeks. Mississippi’s filing deadline for statewide office is Feb. 28.

The only requirements for a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate is that they must be over the age of 30, be a U.S. citizen for at least 20 years, and be a Mississippi resident for five years. The post pays $101,800 annually, a fraction of what Barbour now makes as a lobbyist.

The 55-year-old Barbour, a seventh-generation Mississippian who was born in Yazoo City, attended the University of Mississippi and received a law degree from the University of Mississippi, and is well known for regularly heading back to the Magnolia State every weekend. Barbour chaired the state GOP from 1973 to 1976, and practiced law in Yazoo City until 1985. He mounted an ill-fated challenge to Democratic Sen. John Stennis in 1982, taking just 36 percent of the vote.

Barbour will also have to file a “Statement of Economic Interest” with the state ethics commission within 15 days of becoming a candidate. The disclosure form requires all candidates to list any sources of income they received over past year in excess of $2,500 and detail the sources, as well listing other business interests.

David Blount, an official with the Mississippi secretary of state’s office, confirmed that there are no other restrictions on Barbour’s potential candidacy.

“All he has to do is meet the [Mississippi] constitutional requirement and fill out the Statement of Economic Interest,” said Blount.

Barbour, in fact, doesn’t actually own Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. He sold the firm to the Interpublic Group of Companies, a media conglomerate, several years ago for $20 million in stock, and he and the two other principals sign annual contracts to work as lobbyists for their old firm, according to Rogers. Barbour re-upped with Interpublic for another year last November, said Rogers.

In addition, Barbour owns a posh D.C. restaurant, the Caucus Room, along with Democratic power broker Tommy Boggs.

Barbour, who is tight with powerful Republicans such as Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), the chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee since being deposed as GOP leader last month, as well as new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), lobbies on behalf of some of the bluest of the blue chippers in the corporate world.

His roster of clients includes Citigroup, DaimlerChrysler, Delta Airlines, Lockheed Martin, Nestle and the Southern Co., among dozens of others.

Barbour also works for a number of Mississippi-based organizations, including the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi and the Yazoo County Port Commission.

Barbour, Griffith & Rogers raked in more than $6.3 million in lobbying fees alone during the first six months of 2002. That placed Barbour, Griffith & Rogers in the top 10 of all Washington lobbying companies, and came on top of the $10.8 million the firm took in the previous year.

When he signed up as RNC chairman in 1992, Barbour publicly pledged to sever his ties to corporations he represented at the time, although Barbour never actually did so, and government watchdog groups slammed him for that move.

Barbour also was investigated in 1997 for his ties to a Hong Kong businessman that helped pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the GOP, although a three-judge appeals panel eventually ruled that Barbour’s actions were “not criminal.”

Barbour came under heavy pressure from the Bush administration last year to drop a client, United Defense, after the Pentagon canceled an $11 billion artillery system being built by the company. White House officials leaned on Barbour, Griffith & Rogers to terminate the relationship with United Defense, and Barbour agreed to do so.

Barbour, who declined to comment for this article, has already scheduled a series of nine “organizational meetings” throughout Mississippi this week, according to a letter he mailed out to supporters recently. The letter, first reported by The Associated Press, included a mailing address for the “Barbour for Governor” campaign.

Barbour also set up a campaign office in Jackson in early January.

“I won’t formally announce for some time, but I want you to know in advance,” Barbour wrote in his letter. “This will be a campaign that not only attracts bipartisan and biracial support, but will reflect the diversity of the state’s population, geography and economy. I will not concede any area, any group or any vote.”

A lobbyist-turned-candidate is nothing new at the federal level, although as a state candidate, Barbour of course will not face any of these restrictions. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) was a lobbyist for CSX Corp, at the time he was first elected in 1994.

Two years ago Democratic lobbyist Terry Lierman unsuccessfully challenged then-Rep. Connie Morella (R) in Maryland’s 8th district.

In 1979, Rep. Bill Emerson (R-Mo.) ran for the House while working as a lobbyist. Emerson sought and received an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission on whether any pay he received from his lobbying activities while a candidate would count as a contribution or expenditure.

The FEC issued an opinion supporting Emerson’s position, as long as the candidate/lobbyist meets certain criteria: the compensation resulted from bona fide employment independent of one’s candidacy; any pay received by the candidate is for work actually performed; and the amount the candidate receives for such work doesn’t exceed that paid to other lobbyists.

Emerson won office in 1980 and served in the House until his death from cancer in June 1996.

During the 1991 Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, the Republican candidate, was attacked by both Democrats and Public Citizen for his work on behalf of the Pittsburgh law firm of Kilpatrick & Lockhart

In complaints filed with the FEC, they charged Thornburgh was doing little or no work for Kilpatrick & Lockhart, and argued his $265,000 salary was actually a campaign contribution. Thornburgh, twice governor of the Keystone State, adamantly rejected the allegations and said he made only several thousand dollars for minimal work. Thornburgh lost that 1991 special election, held to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) term, to Democrat Harris Wofford.

The FEC dismissed the complaint against Thornburgh, although the commission did express doubts about Thornburgh’s relationship with the law firm.

Recent Stories

House passes $95.3B aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

Senate sends surveillance reauthorization bill to Biden’s desk

Five races to watch in Pennsylvania primaries on Tuesday

‘You talk too much’— Congressional Hits and Misses

Senators seek changes to spy program reauthorization bill

Editor’s Note: Congress and the coalition-curious