Back before the nation’s myopia was so focused on Jack Abramhoff’s hands lining every Washington pocket, there was a slick move in 1997 by then-House speaker Newt Gingrich and Mississippi’s Senator Trent Lott to insert into the national budget a $50 billion tax break for tobacco companies.
It consisted of placing a few paragraphs deep inside a bill that ran into hundreds of pages, inserting its language at the last minute when Congress is facing a down-to-the-wire, government-shutdown deadline that discourages anyone from really reading what’s in it.
Unfortunately for Lott, Gingrich and big tobacco, someone did read it. Two freshmen Congressmen – a Republican and a Democrat – spotted the end-run attempt, one describing the massive tax credit – it would have offset to tobacco companies their cost in tobacco settlements with states – as something that "shines and stinks like a mackerel in the moonlight."
Once it was exposed, no one in Congress would defend it. The Senate voted to toss it 95 to 3, the House unanimously.
Gingrich and Lott clammed up rather than reveal the mastermind behind the plan, but Republican Party officials later leaked that it was none other than the man who is now Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour.
Barbour was then the principal of the lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers which had made millions lobbying for tobacco companies. In 1997, his firm was salting away $50,000 a month fronting for the tobacco industry. Prior to that, while he was chairman of the Republican National Committee, he had helped secure during an 18-month-period $1.9 million in donations from tobacco companies to the Republican Party.
In 2000, Barbour’s lobbying firm was sold for $20 million to the Interpublic Group of Companies with the proviso that it retain its name. By that time Barbour had raised lobbying to the fine art that paved the way for the likes of Jack Abramhoff. The following year, Barbour told the New York Times: "We don’t represent issues that are inconsistent with what we believe in."
So forgive us if we are somewhat skeptical of Barbour’s posturing as if holding high moral ground when he states that his opposition to raising taxes is the reason for his veto of Senate Bill 2310.
Where there’s smokes there’s … Haley Barbour