Street Talk: Another Haley Barbour Hunkers Down on K Street

Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:55pm

Haley Barbour exited the lobbying world years ago for the glamour of electoral politics, but he still has blood on K Street.

In January, Barbour’s 31-year-old son became a vice president at BGR Group, the lobbying and public affairs shop that his father started back in 1991.

Known as Reeves Barbour, Haley Reeves Barbour Jr. came to Washington, D.C., just about the time that his father headed back to Mississippi to run the state as governor. Reeves Barbour worked on Capitol Hill for the Commerce Department during the George W. Bush administration, and he spent the last Congress as an in-house lobbyist for tobacco company Reynolds American.

As his namesake eyes a potential run for the White House, Reeves Barbour is quietly building his business at BGR, a firm that started with an all-Republican pedigree but is now bipartisan. He is publicly registered to lobby on behalf of two clients — the Physician Hospitals of America and public auctions company Rick Levin & Associates. And sources familiar with his work say he is specializing in outreach to the large crop of Republican freshman Members of Congress.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his dad has deep ties in the GOP, in downtown D.C. and on Capitol Hill, especially as Gov. Barbour has been working Republican and tea party insiders for his potential White House bid.

“Haley is a strong candidate,” said Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo, who met with the Mississippi governor in recent days. “Everything he’s ever touched his whole life has been successful.”

But Reeves Barbour won’t talk about it publicly.

Other kin have been in the news recently discussing the possible family hardships of Gov. Barbour’s White House bid, but Reeves Barbour declined to comment on his own business or his dad’s. A spokesman for BGR also declined the opportunity to speak. A spokeswoman for the governor did not return a call seeking comment.

Several sources described Reeves Barbour as an ambitious up-and-coming lobbyist, a husband, a father of two and a Southern gentleman who was raised in Yazoo City, Miss., while his father commuted between his hometown and the Beltway.

Reeves Barbour has spent much of the past four months going to meet-and-greets for new Members of Congress and knocking on their doors in an affable, “I want to get to know you” sort of way.

“Reeves is of the generation of many of the new Members,” one knowledgeable K Streeter said. “And his personality — he’s conversant on the issues and friendly and articulate.”

He’s also savvy to the other family business: politics. He worked on Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign in the pivotal spot of Dade County, Fla. And he traveled Mississippi with his father during the elder Barbour’s campaign for a second gubernatorial term, according to his BGR bio.

The junior Barbour’s lobbying career has gained little public attention. The lobbyist’s old boss at Reynolds American, John Fish, declined to say much about his former employee but called him “a great guy” who moved on because he had other opportunities.

Reeves Barbour is most certainly not the only second-generation lobbyist, nor is he the only K Streeter with a politician parent. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has a son who made a foray into the influence business. Ex-Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) left Capitol Hill to go into business with each other and their lobbyist sons. Ex-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) shares business with his son. Lobbyist Missy Edwards followed in the footsteps of her father, Macon, while father-son Bill and Tim Hecht practice at Hecht, Spencer & Associates.

“Politics is rife with examples of family following family, and lobbying just takes it to a new level,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and campaign donations. “This is an industry that thrives, where success depends on the connections, the cordial relationships, the knowledge of who knows who.”

And sharing a last name and DNA with Gov. Barbour is a big deal.

“The importance of having that family connection to somebody who’s as big a mover and shaker as Haley Barbour is cannot be understated,” Krumholz added.

It comes with a downside, though.

“He’s working very hard to develop his own reputation and work plan separate from his last name,” said a source who knows Reeves Barbour. “He gets the benefit of people having a very high regard for his father, but the downside is he’s constantly asked, ‘What’s your dad going to do?’ He has to be very patient as sometimes the conversation takes a long road before it gets to where he wants it to go.”

Tim Locke, senior vice president at the Smith-Free Group, got to know Reeves Barbour when he was with Reynolds American.

“He’s a nice 30-something young man — stable, good instincts and good credibility — just kind of climbing the ladder like so many other people do,” Locke said. “He’s very capable in his own right, but it’s kind of like being a Senator’s son: You never escape the fact that your father’s in politics.”