Haley Barbour’s Latest Headache

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For years, Republican Haley Barbour prowled the halls of Congress as one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. His shop, Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, represented the likes of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, defense contractor Raytheon, and even the “Kurdistan Democratic Party USA,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Then Barbour won the governor’s seat in hard-hit Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the union. But while Barbour’s title may have changed, his lavish lobbyist lifestyle apparently has not.

Politico reports on Monday that Barbour, a potential presidential candidate in 2012, has made ample use of his state’s 12-seater Cessna airplane—for both official business and, well, not-so-official fundraising jaunts and pleasure trips. According to flight records dating back to 2007 (Barbour was elected into office in 2003), Barbour has used to Cessna to whisk him around the country at a cost of $500,000 to taxpayers over the past three years, jetting to locales like New York, Las Vegas, and Washington. Sometimes the trips are for state business, other times they’re for posh fundraisers or football games.

In one example, Barbour flew to Las Vegas in March 2010 (using taxpayer dollars) for what was listed in state records as a “project meeting.” But according to news reports, Barbour had an expensive fundraiser to attend as well, where donors to his state political action committee could pay $5,000 to drive a stock car at a local racetrack and hobnob with wealthy casino owner Steve Wynn.

Here’s more from Politico:

Also among Barbour’s state-paid trips are leisure jaunts, where he is—in his staff’s view—acting as a sort of plenipotentiary ambassador from Mississippi. Barbour flew to the Cotton Bowl on the state’s dime in 2009, as the Ole Miss Rebels beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders 47-34. He attended the second round of the 2010 SEC basketball tournament, in which Ole Miss and Mississippi State were both playing.

In September 2008, Barbour flew on the state plane from Jackson to Gulfport to attend a Don King-promoted fight and a tribute to himself at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. [Barbour spokesman Dan] Turner e-mailed that the event “was part of a combined tribute to Gov. Barbour/promotional event televised to a national audience to remind the public that the Mississippi Gulf Coast was open for tourism after Hurricane Katrina.”

To Mississippi’s feeble “good government” groups, Barbour is crossing the line.

“What Barbour is doing is that he’s playing the system. He’s raising as much money as he can, whenever he can and using the state plane to do,” said Lynn Evans, president of the watchdog group Common Cause Mississippi.

In response, a Barbour spokesman said the governor “is an effective marketing tool in a state that really needs it.”

The revelations about Barbour’s jet-setting couldn’t come at worse moment for the popular governor, who also chairs the Republican Governor’s Association. A recent cover story in the Weekly Standard caused a firestorm when Barbour, asked about growing up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, responded: “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” The claim, among several others, elicited cries of racism, and forced Barbour to issue a response to the article rebutting those criticisms and clarifying that the period in question “was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted at that time.”

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