If, several decades from now, anthropologists set out to locate the spiritual hub of early twenty-first-century Washington, they could do worse than the Caucus Room, that bunker of a steakhouse across from the FBI building downtown. Founded seven years ago by a bipartisan klatch of moneymen and influence-peddlers--among them, famed lobbyist Tommy Boggs, Bush-family henchman C. Boyden Gray, and Clinton fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe--the restaurant caters to the bland appetites and bulging egos of Washington's expense-account elite. This, of course, becomes apparent the second you walk in the door. Prices have been set to appeal to a man desensitized by years of federal earmarks, and the decor is so heavy on mahogany it feels like you've stepped into a casket. In all, the premises boast some half-dozen private dining rooms--enough redundant capability to ensure that the backroom dealing would survive a nuclear first strike.
Even the restaurant's jokes are inside. There is, for example, the Caucus Room's "Haley's Chopped Salad." This is a bowl of greens topped with mustard vinaigrette and Maytag blue cheese. It is named after another one of the restaurant's owners--former Republican lobbyist and current Mississippi governor Haley Barbour--who, judging from his ample jowls and girth, wouldn't know a salad if it were, well, named after him.
Barbour himself is no joke, however--far from it. Over the decades, he has led a vanguard of Washington lobbyists to progressively greater heights of power and influence. After a stint as Ronald Reagan's political director during the mid-1980s, Barbour opened one of the most lucrative lobbying firms in town. From there, he leapt to the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, where he helped lay the groundwork for the now-infamous K Street Project, the decade-long effort to fashion corporate lobbyists into an arm of the GOP. In 1996, according to The Washington Monthly, Barbour organized a meeting between the House leadership and a group of CEOs at which the Republicans were so brazen in their demands--such as insisting that the companies remove Democrats from their Washington offices and hire Republicans instead--that many of the CEOs walked out.
That was the rare setback, however. Far more often, the CEOs ponied up. And they were apparently pleased with their investment. When Barbour rejoined his old firm, now called Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BG&R), at the end of his RNC tour, many of them became his clients.
All of which is to say that it was a surprise when, in early 2003, Barbour announced he was returning to his native Mississippi to run for governor. RNC chairman was the only job Barbour had ever been elected to, and he had won that post by portraying himself as the ultimate Washington insider. "His issue was, 'I'm one of you all,'" says longtime friend and political mentor Clarke Reed, explaining Barbour's appeal to the people who select the party chair.
Barbour, who would refer to BG&R as "our little lobbyin' firm up in Washington, D.C.," campaigned for the governor's job exactly the way you'd expect a lobbyist to: by parading a contingent of suits through Mississippi to vouch for his bona fides. George W. Bush showed up, as did Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Dole, and cabinet secretaries Donald Evans and Rod Paige. Then-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, another longtime lobbyist, gushed to The New York Times Magazine that the national GOP would "do everything that we're legally allowed to do" to elect Barbour. When it was all over and Barbour had won, even his celebration betrayed his K Street provenance. "One of the interesting things about his inaugural was how sparse the crowd was," notes former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus. "He just didn't know many Mississippians."
But, because maintaining ties to a powerful K Street firm while holding high public office would strain even the most liberal ethics regime, Barbour vowed to put his lobbyist life behind him once he became governor. "I can't have anything that's a conflict of interest," he told the state's largest newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger, two weeks after winning the election. The week he was sworn in, Barbour said, according to the Associated Press, that "he has no ownership or stock in the company he helped found in 1991." Barbour even packed his assets into a blind trust to further defuse suspicion. (Neither step was required by state law.)
Barbour announced these things with such homespun conviction that many believed him. The Clarion-Ledger, for one, certified Barbour as having done "all that can be expected of him in setting aside his business interests" just after he took office. But is it possible for a longtime lobbyist to truly leave his former life behind? It's a question worth asking as Barbour runs for reelection this fall amid much chatter about his vice-presidential prospects. (While in Mississippi earlier this summer, Rudy Giuliani pronounced Barbour "on the top of everybody's list.") And the question has become even more relevant in recent weeks as another former lobbyist, Fred Thompson, has joined the presidential race. Barbour is, in many ways, the perfect test case--a lobbyist who had spent his career nudging back ethical lines in the search for corporate cash. Could a man like that really go legit?
And that's where things get interesting. Earlier this summer, The New Republic received a document that appeared to be a copy of Barbour's blind trust agreement. It was dated February 27, 2004--six weeks after he'd become governor--and signed by Barbour and his trustee, a man named S. Griffin Norquist of Yazoo City, Mississippi. What immediately caught our eye were the assets the document catalogued: among them, nearly 50,000 shares of Interpublic Group, which had become BG&R's corporate parent when the partners sold the firm in 1999. This seemed to contradict Barbour's earlier statement. Either Barbour had delayed cutting ties to his firm, or he hadn't really cut them at all.
In August 1997, as Congress was putting the finishing touches on a balanced-budget agreement with the Clinton White House, two sharp-eyed freshman senators spotted something odd. Someone had convinced Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott to slip a $50 billion tax credit for tobacco companies into the bill at the last minute. For a month, the mystery raged across Washington: Who could have engineered such an audacious giveaway? Finally, Time discovered the culprit: Haley Barbour, the former RNC chair cum millionaire tobacco lobbyist.
Today, this tale of Republicans larding bills with corporate goodies at the behest of lobbyists would hardly raise an eyebrow. At the time, it was extraordinary. And it was Barbour who did as much as anyone in Washington to make the permissiveness possible. The Republican Party was deflated after Bill Clinton's victory in 1992, caught in an endless round of recriminations and backbiting. As RNC chairman, Barbour re-energized the GOP ranks by highlighting two priorities: He focused on economic issues rather than social ones, and he promised a harder-edged approach to politics. (Comparing Bill Clinton to Elmer Gantry, the womanizing preacher of Sinclair Lewis's imagination, was a favorite Barbour trope.) Barbour became known for branding the party with simple, trademark themes--for lower taxes, for small government, against the president. "Repeat it until you vomit" became one of the best-heeded "Barbourisms" at RNC headquarters.
Barbour's signal accomplishment was to help engineer the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He did this by lending critical early support to the Contract with America. "Everyone thought Newt was a brilliant guy, but people didn't have confidence that every idea of his was sound," recalls Gingrich's then-press secretary Tony Blankley. "Haley was seen as a sound political head. ... He gave it credibility by way of his reputation." One key turning point came that March, when Gingrich and Barbour met at an Annapolis, Maryland, watering hole after a Republican retreat. Gingrich was adamant about placing a full-page ad for the Contract in a high-circulation national magazine, but the House Republicans were broke. Barbour agreed to front him the money. The resulting TV Guide ad was a p.r. coup.
Not for nothing would Gingrich turn to Barbour for cash. Barbour's singular forte was fund-raising--cozying up to corporations and persuading them they had an ally in the Republican Party. During his RNC tenure, he convinced Big Tobacco to fork over some $12.1 million to Republicans, among other triumphs.
But Barbour's frenzied devotion to high-stakes fund-raising created its share of problems. "Ask forgiveness, not permission" was another famous Barbourism, and its author frequently had to ask forgiveness. In 1997, Barbour faced allegations that the RNC had given $4.6 million to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform for campaign purposes in the waning weeks of the '96 election--a possible campaign-finance violation. (He beat the rap when Senate Republicans blocked an inquiry.) Barbour also helped broker a $2.1 million loan guarantee from a Hong Kong businessman to a GOP front group. The sum was so staggering that it won the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, and a federal grand jury spent two years investigating whether he had illegally funneled the money into state and local races. Eventually, a three-judge panel deemed the arrangement "not criminal," which, come to think of it, is a pithy summation of Barbour's own credo.
The following year, Barbour returned to BG&R, the firm he had founded in 1991. In deference to the strictures of the K Street Project, BG&R hired Republicans exclusively, right down to the receptionists. By 2000, the company was raking in nearly $11 million a year from firms such as Microsoft, Phillip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Lockheed Martin, GlaxoSmithKline, and Bellsouth.
Through it all, Barbour never lost his status among Republicans. He continued to be a top Republican fund-raiser, helping the RNC sign up corporate donors for the party's elite "Team 100" program. In the late '90s, Barbour's firm was holding fund-raisers five times a month for Republican members of Congress, giving the likes of Trent Lott and Chuck Hagel access to his extensive Rolodex of clients and connecting them with other GOP lobbyists. And Barbour remained the chief conduit between the GOP and Big Tobacco, helping the party raise $22 million from cigarette-makers between 1997 and 2002. In 2000, Bush brought Barbour on as an informal adviser to his campaign, where, among other things, he took a leading role in painting John McCain as a bleeding heart-- "Clintonesque," as Barbour told the press.
Bush's ascendance to the White House in 2000 marked an ascendance for Barbour as well. Such was his cachet that, in 2001, when the Environmental Protection Agency threatened to follow through on Bush's campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide, Barbour helped to derail the effort for his clients without breaking a sweat. As a child, Barbour had always wanted to be a senator. Now he was arguably more powerful than a veto-proof majority of them.
Late last month, one of us--Noam Scheiber--traveled to Yazoo City, Mississippi, where Barbour grew up. Not quite an hour north of Jackson, Yazoo sits at a geographic crossroads--the place where hilly northern Mississippi gives way to the fertile Delta region. Yazoo was once home to an affluent professional class, but that group's only legacy today is a few leafy blocks of imposing homes. The white flight that followed public-school integration, coupled with the decline of the city's manufacturing base, dealt Yazoo a near- mortal blow in the 1970s and '80s. Its formerly quaint downtown was almost abandoned the day I arrived. A woman at the Goodwill store--whose presence downtown was itself an ominous sign--directed me a few blocks north to a Jr. Mart when I inquired about the nearest coffee shop.
I had come to Yazoo for an unannounced visit with S. Griffin Norquist, the longtime friend who manages the governor's blind trust. Assuming the document we'd received was authentic, I wanted to ask him why Barbour had kept an interest in his old firm after publicly implying he no longer had one.
The document raised other questions, too. For example, most blind trusts involve a transfer of assets from their owner to the trust. But this document explicitly said that several of Barbour's assets, including his interest in BG&R's parent company, would not be transferred. Instead, Norquist would simply assume "full control and dominion over" them. That meant that Barbour, rather than the trust, would pay taxes on these assets and would therefore know he owned them and how much they were worth. The trust would be anything but blind.
There was also this: In May 2004, Interpublic had sold BG&R back to Barbour's former partners, Lanny Griffith and Ed Rogers (the "G" and the "R" in BG&R). Whether Barbour had also repurchased a stake in the firm had been the subject of much speculation. He had never entirely ruled out this possibility, telling reporters only that he wouldn't be involved in the buyback negotiations. I was hoping Norquist could shed light on the situation.
I found Norquist at the Bank of Yazoo City, where he is the president. Norquist was a balding, pear-shaped man of about 60, dressed in tan khakis and a white shirt. His eyes narrowed when I introduced myself and showed him the trust document. "Get out," he told me. I promptly began to stammer. "You write for The New Republic? Where's your card?" Luckily, I had anticipated precisely this scenario. Not quite soon enough to bring an actual business card from Washington. But soon enough to grab the latest issue from my car on the way into the bank. I began paging frantically through the magazine.
Finally, I pointed to my name on the masthead and shoved my driver's license in front of him. Norquist, who, prior to this point, had turned an exquisite shade of red, gradually regained his composure. He invited me to wait in the reception area. "I have a staff meeting at three-thirty," he said. "It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. We can talk then."
Norquist returned some 15 minutes later and led me into his office. He explained that another reporter seemingly in possession of the same document had been badgering him by phone for days. He had assumed I was him. As for the real me, not the me he had temporarily mistaken for his nemesis, "You're okay," Norquist said. "You and I don't have a problem." He circled back to this theme several times.
There was no way to know if Norquist had actually been in a staff meeting, or if the meeting was an excuse he had concocted in order to place a phone call. Either way, he wasn't inclined to say much about the trust. He did want me to know, apropos of nothing, that his "involvement with that has nothing to do with the bank. It has my home address on it, not the bank address. I don't even know what you've got there." I began reading from page one: "S. Griffin Norquist Jr., ... six hundred twenty-seven E. Broadway, Yazoo ..."
"Yeah, that's my home address," he said.
"Would you like to see the document?"
"No. I really can't comment on that."
You begin to appreciate the size of a place like Mississippi when you can wander through a rickety downtown knowing that several members of the governor's family are, at that very moment, within a couple of blocks of where you're standing. You truly grasp the size of a place like Mississippi when you knock on one of those relatives' doors--and they open it and invite you in for iced tea.
The door I knocked on was attached to a large, two-story brick house. Its lawn was lush and green and flowed out from a regal front porch. A fortress of shrubbery and columns surrounded it. The member of the Barbour clan who answered was the governor's older brother Jeppie, a big barrel of a man with bulldog-like features. I had apparently caught him unwinding from a long day--he was dressed in a white undershirt, brown slacks, and dark socks--but he was gracious and happy to chat. Before long, Jeppie had settled into an overstuffed couch in his den, while his bubbly wife Frances and I sat nearby in two armchairs.
The three Barbour brothers (the third, Wiley, keeps a law office in town) grew up on nearby Jackson Street. Their father was a Princeton-educated lawyer known for his intelligence and his photographic memory, which Haley inherited, according to local lore. But the elder Barbour died when Haley was only two. You wouldn't exactly have called the Barbour boys "wild." But they did emit enough rowdy energy to occasionally test the patience of their strong-willed mother. By way of illustration, Jeppie mentioned a group called the "Red Tops" that attended dances up and down the Delta when Haley was a young man. The dances would attract large crowds, and, from time to time, a fight would break out. "The Yazoo City group, I think, ended up with a reputation of--they didn't start them, but at least winning all the fights," he said.
Jeppie is a vision of what Haley might have looked like had he stayed in Mississippi. His persona is less manufactured than his brother's, his appearance a little rougher, his accent thicker. He and Frances seemed genuinely awed by the nation's capital, even though there were times in the '90s when his brother practically ran it. "Have you ever eaten at the restaurant Haley owns in Washington?" Frances asked me. "The Caucus Room?" I said. "I guess so. I've never eaten there," she replied. "From the outside, it looks very nice and very expensive," Jeppie added.
Toward the end of the conversation, I asked if I could see the rest of the house, which Jeppie's grandparents once owned. Frances and Jeppie briefly conferred about its condition, then ushered me into a living room. We were greeted by a blast of moist, warm air--we had apparently left the house's only air-conditioned room. The first thing I noticed was the elegant, antique-looking furniture, which had long ago begun to fray. My eyes then drifted to the large paintings of Barbour men decorating the walls. On the far wall was a gothic-looking portrait of Jeppie at age three or four. On my right were portraits of his four older boys and, to my left, his youngest son. All in all, it was what I imagine being trapped in a Faulkner story would feel like.
But the Yazoo City Barbours are no rubes. Jeppie was elected mayor before his thirtieth birthday and has run several local political campaigns. And two of the children in the paintings, Austin and Henry, are among the most powerful figures in Mississippi--the men to see in Jackson. Henry managed his uncle's campaign for governor and worked in his fund-raising operation at the RNC. Austin did a tour of his own in Washington and, in 2004, became the head of his uncle's federal political action committee, called Haley's PAC. Now the two brothers work at Capitol Resources, the state's most influential lobbying firm.
When I asked Jeppie where his sons had acquired their political skills, he fixed me with a wary expression. "I guess they're just smart," he said.
Haley Barbour returned home at a crucial point in Mississippi history. The state had been slowly trending Republican for decades, and, in 1992, Kirk Fordice became the first GOP governor since Reconstruction. But Fordice never cemented GOP gains in the state: Democrats stymied his legislative aims, and a Democratic governor succeeded him in 2000.
Barbour, presumably, had greater ambitions than simply passing through the governor's mansion. He had spent the early part of his career as a Mississippi political operative helping Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan bring conservative white Southerners into the party's fold. "We were battling," recalls Clarke Reed, the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party when Barbour was executive director. "When we first started this darn thing, ten percent of people thought they were Republicans. [Everyone else would] say, 'I'm not a Democrat, I'm a Mississippi Democrat.'" The partisan ethos Barbour had imbibed in those days was a far cry from the approach practiced by Fordice, who, in 1995, had cheerfully voted for the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
In Jackson, Barbour set out to do what Fordice either wouldn't or couldn't: transform the state into a GOP stronghold. Barbour initiated massive fights in the legislature over education funding and Medicaid, ending the cozy bipartisanship that had helped conservative Democrats blur partisan differences and maintain their legislative majorities. "Prior to the convening of the 2004 session, geography, race, and economic status influenced the votes legislators cast on public policy issues," write Jere Nash and Andy Taggart in Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2006. "The rules changed when Barbour took the oath of office. Political party began to matter." Barbour also called a special session in 2004 to push through curbs on malpractice lawsuits, even though the legislature had passed a major tort-reform bill just two years earlier. The effect, intended or not, was to deal another blow to state Democrats' biggest source of funding: trial lawyers. (In fairness, Barbour also won bipartisan acclaim for tapping his D.C. connections and steering federal money to Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.)
Republicans credit Barbour with making the party a far more effective force than it had ever been. According to several legislators, GOP lawmakers now receive talking points and use legislative sessions to shape their party's message. Barbour's office sends a steady flow of e-mail to instruct Republicans in both chambers on how to vote, even on procedural issues. There is little tolerance for dissent. After Jessica Upshaw, a GOP representative from the Gulf coast, supported an ill-fated bill mandating legislative oversight of Katrina- recovery funds, she was reportedly disinvited from the governor's plane en route to a meeting with Bush. (Of her support for the bill, Upshaw merely says, "I won't say that I felt like I was warmly embraced for it.")
In many ways, Barbour has replicated Tom DeLay's K Street Project in Jackson. After his election in 2003, Henry and Austin Barbour joined Capitol Resources, a lobbying firm just steps from the governor's mansion--much like Barbour Griffith & Rogers overlooks Capitol Hill. The firm shares a number of BG&R's clients, including Northrop Grumman and Lorillard Tobacco Company. Most lobbying shops in Jackson are small, single-person firms, which, while business- friendly, have rarely dominated the legislature the way that Capitol Resources has, with its 15-strong battalion. "They made a habit of going after other lobbyists' clients, saying, 'If you want anything done in the Mississippi legislature, you better hire us,'" says one Democratic legislator.
One of the advantages Henry and Austin had in this competition was their unusually close access to the governor. Austin, for example, has spent a considerable portion of his expense account on his uncle's employees, according to filings with the Mississippi secretary of state. One night in 2006, he plunked down over $800 at a restaurant called Tico's for a meal with twelve members of the governor's staff. "That is highly unusual," says Mabus, the former governor. "I don't think my staff ever went out with a lobbyist." (Neither Barbour nephew responded to interview requests for this article.)
A recent Bloomberg piece illustrates the problem with the relationship between Barbour and his nephews. In July 2005, a local bond advisory firm called Government Consultants Inc. hired Capitol Resources to represent it in Mississippi. Katrina hit a couple of months later, and, in the aftermath, Barbour appointed Henry as executive director of a state commission overseeing the recovery. One of the commission's mandates was to advise the state on the sale of bonds to fund the rebuilding. When all was said and done, Government Consultants walked away with $2.4 million from the state in fees for 2006, at least $400,000 of which came from bonds directed toward hurricane recovery. The firm, in turn, paid Capitol Resources $65,000 for Henry Barbour's services between mid-2005 and the end of 2006.
As with DeLay's efforts to entrench the GOP in Washington, Mississippi Republicans are integrating lobbyists into their own political machine. Shortly after the Barbour nephews joined Capitol Resources, Henry told the Delta Business Journal, "[W]e're going to assist ... Republican candidates in raising money both nationally and at the state level." (When Haley was chairman of the RNC, it was Henry who had worked to coordinate corporate donations to the party. ) In January 2007, Democratic state Senator Shannon Walley switched parties, giving Republicans an official majority in the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. Campaign finance records show that, a few weeks after Walley switched, he received thousands of dollars in contributions from Republican donors and lobbyists, including two checks from lobbyists at Capitol Resources.
At times, the similarities between Barbour's m.o. and DeLay's make you marvel at the sheer lack of imagination. Disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff spent years charging the Mississippi Choctaws, a local band of Indians, outrageous seven-figure fees to watch over their casino interests. Capitol Resources has performed similar work for the Choctaws. Some of the work predated Barbour's tenure as governor, but the relationship became suddenly relevant a few years into his term. That's when the Choctaws' then-chief, Phillip Martin, proposed building an off-reservation casino near the Gulf coast. Barbour had promised to oppose any expansion of gambling in Mississippi while running in 2003. This warmed the hearts of the existing casinos that had helped bankroll his campaign, since, under federal law, a governor can unilaterally veto an off-reservation casino. And yet, despite distancing himself from the Choctaw project, Barbour never got around to killing it. There are any number of explanations for this hesitation, to be sure. The Choctaws are one of the state's largest employers; no governor would be eager to cross them. Still, the involvement of his nephews' firm is intriguing. According to one former consultant for the Choctaws, Capitol Resources was instructed to "make sure Barbour or any other state politician didn't come out more definitely" against the casino.
Barbour has always been on the cutting edge of demolishing norms of propriety in the public sphere. He wasn't ashamed to bring lobbyists into the world of partisan politics, something he had initiated in the mid-'90s and which DeLay later perfected. And he wasn't ashamed to create the perception that he was going further: using partisan politics to benefit clients of the lobbying firm he might still have ties to.
Barbour had been among the tobacco industry's top lobbyists prior to returning to Mississippi. Between 1998 and 2002, such tobacco companies as Phillip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Brown and Williamson, and U.S. Tobacco paid his firm $3.8 million. The firm has collected more than $2 million in tobacco revenue since Barbour became governor.
If the tobacco companies were hoping all this would pay dividends for them in Mississippi, they cannot be disappointed. In 2006, the state legislature passed a so-called "tax swap" bill. Supported by Amy Tuck, the lieutenant governor and, until then, a faithful Barbour ally, the measure would have raised the state's tobacco tax, one of the country's lowest, and lowered its ultra-regressive grocery tax. Barbour twice vetoed the plan and twisted enough Republican arms to sustain it--despite the fact that some 70 percent of Mississippians supported the legislation. "The tobacco companies, we barely even saw them," says Steve Holland, chairman of the House public health committee. "They didn't have to show up because they had the big boy fighting for them." To this day, few in the GOP have dared cross Barbour on the matter. Recently, lobbyists from the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program asked several Republicans to pledge to raise the tobacco tax. They encountered near-universal resistance. "A lot of Republicans are saying, 'Do you know what you're doing? If I sign this thing, then Haley will come and dump more money into my opponent's campaign,'" says Roy Mitchell, the program's director.
This year, legislators tried again, introducing two more bills that would have halved the state's grocery tax and raised the cigarette tax by $1. Barbour didn't even lift his veto pen this time around--the bills died at the hands of Senate finance committee chairman Tommy Robertson. Oddly, Robertson had been a vocal advocate of previous tax-swap bills. Earlier this year, however, he and two other Republican legislators--who, in their day jobs, are lawyers--had received a $1.2 million contract from the Mississippi Development Authority, which is overseen by the governor, to help homeowners finalize their Katrina grants. The contract raised more than a few eyebrows. (In an interview, Robertson said the contract--which was cleared by the state ethics commission on a party-line vote--had "absolutely nothing" to do with his stance on the tax swap.)
Barbour's attempts to kill the tax swap weren't his only gift to the tobacco industry. In 1997, then-attorney general Mike Moore won $4.1 billion for the state in a landmark lawsuit against Big Tobacco. As part of the settlement, a state court created the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, a $20-million-a-year tobacco-prevention program to be run partly by Moore, and ordered Mississippi to fund it. Teen-smoking rates in the state had plummeted in the years since the creation of the Partnership. But, when Barbour came into office, he initiated a lawsuit to dismantle it, arguing that the program didn't receive enough legislative scrutiny.
Most onlookers think the battle was personal. In speeches to Republican supporters, Barbour would insist he wasn't going to let Moore have $20 million a year to effectively run a campaign for future office. Meanwhile, Barbour subsequently vetoed a bill that would have addressed his concerns. As he rounded up the votes to sustain it, Barbour claimed the program was diverting money to the Legislative Black Caucus, which ran a youth- leadership program funded by the Partnership.
Late last year, Moore met with Barbour and issued a personal appeal. "I told him, if you'd rather have the legislature do this ... that's okay," Moore recalls. Barbour merely thanked him and promised to call. He never did.
In the same November 2003 Clarion-Ledger article in which Barbour committed to avoiding conflicts of interest, he also made the following statement: "My partners and I are trying to work out ... what is the appropriate way for them to buy me out." Barbour seemed to be referring to his stake in some sort of profit-sharing arrangement, which is common among partners in a small firm bought out by a large corporation. There is evidence that the quote was disingenuous, however. The blind-trust agreement--which an employee at the Bank of Yazoo City examined before confirming that she had notarized one of the signatures on it, and which Bloomberg subsequently reported on--contains the following statement: "The trustee will direct Interpublic to make any payments of any sort, specifically including but not limited to dividends, net income payments, bonuses, etc., arising from Interpublic's ownership of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, Inc. due to Haley R. Barbour to this A.G. Edwards account." It's not clear what purpose such payments would serve if not to compensate Barbour for his ties to the firm.
That said, there's no way to know if Barbour currently has an interest in BG&R without probing either the current contents of the trust or his brain, and the latter may be easier than the former. "It's a blind trust, which means we don't talk about it," the governor's office has said, apparently confusing two unrelated disabilities. When asked to comment for this article, Barbour spokesperson Ryan Annison told us, "We will not be responding to your six-page laundry list of questions, which is full of inaccuracies and biased innuendo. ... Tell your sources and allies at the Democrat Party we send our regards." He declined to elaborate on the alleged inaccuracies.
So has Barbour really severed ties to his old lobbying outfit? There is one final detail worth contemplating before passing judgment. A little before 9 a.m. local time on the morning of June 19 of this year, a Cessna carrying Barbour departed Jackson-Evers airport in Mississippi for Washington, D.C. The flight touched down at Dulles airport a few minutes after noon, marking the fifteenth time since January 1, 2007, that the governor's plane had landed in the Washington area.
Just under an hour later, TNR observed a hulking black GMC Yukon deposit Barbour outside a nondescript building at 1275 Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of the lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Barbour, wearing a dark suit and a sea-blue tie and identifiable by his nature-defying helmet of hair, strolled into the building alone, save for a laptop carrying-case and a cell phone. He stopped to exchange a few words with a receptionist, then disappeared from view. Roughly 90 minutes later, he exited the building with a red-headed man at his side. The two entered the Yukon and rode away down Pennsylvania Avenue. Just another day at that "little lobbyin' firm up in Washington, D.C."
Additional reporting by Samuel Jacobs and Sophia Lear.