Lobbying past could complicate Barbour campaign

By Ken Thomas

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 12 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this April 9, 2011 photo, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour speaks at the Spartanburg County GOP Convention in Spartanburg, S.C. Barbour is embracing his background as one of Washington's top lobbyists, saying his powers of persuasion would be an asset if he wins the White House.

Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Alex Hicks Jr., Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is embracing his background as one of Washington's top lobbyists, saying his powers of persuasion would be an asset if he wins the White House.

But an Associated Press review of lobbying by the powerhouse firm Barbour helped found before his first campaign for governor shows that he represented clients on issues and interests that could provide his Republican primary opponents ample ammunition and raise eyebrows among some Republican voters. How Barbour addresses his lobbying past could determine his fate if he decides to seek the Republican nomination.

Barbour Griffith & Rogers Inc., which Barbour helped establish in 1991, represented foreign governments on trade and immigration issues, advocated for a fuel additives association that was working in opposition to the ethanol industry dear to Iowa voters, and helped a number of universities get federal funding through a tactic that is anathema to cut-spending conservatives.

The governor has said that rather than be fodder for opponents, his lobbying background would help him be an effective leader.

"When I became governor, I became lobbyist for the taxpayers of Mississippi. And if I become president, I'll become the advocate for the policies and interests of America. That's what presidents do for a living — very similar to what lobbyists do for a living," he told reporters Saturday in Roebuck, S.C.

Being a lobbyist has its rewards. Barbour's lobbying work gave him personal wealth, access to key members of Congress and contacts that could help him lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast in 2005, Barbour was credited with using his Washington ties to help Mississippi receive billions in federal aid. His economic development agenda helped bring a Toyota plant to Blue Springs, near Tupelo, and a Severstal steel facility to Columbus. He is visiting Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Republican lawmakers on health care and Medicaid changes that he oversaw in Mississippi, as Congress wrestles this week with those issues.

Barbour served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 until January 1997 and then built an impressive list of clients at the firm, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, CBS, Comcast, Delta Air Lines, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Qwest Communications. When he was elected Mississippi governor in 2003, Barbour put his assets in a blind trust and has received monthly retirement or severance payments from the firm. Barbour's son, Reeves, joined the firm in January.

The governor's work at the firm could open him to attacks by fellow Republicans on several fronts:

— IMMIGRATION: His firm collected more than $400,000 in fees from the Mexican government in 2001-02 to lobby on immigration reforms sought by the Bush administration to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and expand a temporary worker program to allow immigrants to work in the U.S. The firm also lobbied on the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, border issues, drug trafficking and energy and environmental issues. Some conservative Republicans opposed the pathway to citizenship.

Lanny Griffith, now the firm's chief executive officer, told Mexican Ambassador Juan Jose Bremer in an Aug. 15, 2001, letter that "immigration/human capital" and the "treatment of Mexican citizens who cross the border" would be among the key areas covered by the contract. The firm said in an October 2001 filing with the government that it was seeking "enactment of legislation relating to the status of Mexican nationals currently residing in the United States."

"All resources of our firm will be available to you, but we have designated a team of professionals who will concentrate on your work. Haley Barbour and I will lead the BG&R team," Griffith wrote in the letter to Bremer, noting another lobbyist would manage the day-to-day workload.

Asked Saturday about the Mexican account, Barbour said, "In our firm, I didn't do the work for Mexico."

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