Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Gov. Haley Barbour should withdraw his request that his trust documents remain confidential.
In the regular legislative session this year, Mississippi legislators approved an overhaul of the state’s ethics laws which includes regulations for blind trusts. The governor signed it into law.
Now the governor, through his attorney, Ed Brunini, has told ethics commissioners that Barbour’s trust documents were not intended to be made public. Among the problems Brunini cited: people would be able to figure out the governor’s net worth.
But there is an even stronger reason that the governor should make his holdings transparent.
As a Washington lobbyist and party operative prior to becoming Mississpppi’s governor, Barbour was not only influential for his business clients and for the Republican Party, he was a chief architect in the transformation of K Street into what has unfortunately become the de facto seat of this nation’s fourth branch of government. And among Barbour’s best-paying lobbying clients were the tobacco companies.
When Barbour was elected as Mississippi’s governor, he placed his assets into the blind trust. The idea is to shield the governor from his assets to prevent conflicts of interest that might arise if he knowingly took an action as governor which might benefit a company in which he holds a financial interest. Yazoo City banker Griffin Norquist is reported to manage Barbour’s blind trust.
Meanwhile as governor, Barbour has repeatedly opposed any increase in this state’s tobacco tax even though ours is among the nation’s lowest.
Repeatedly, Barbour has cited his opposition to any increase in taxes as his reason for opposing the cigarette tax increase. But even though that opposition is consistent with Republican ideology, the reason behind it will remain suspect as long as Barbour’s financial holdings remain secret.
The governor should make his holdings transparent and immediately discredit suspicion that he holds to old loyalties to clients for whom he once lobbied so successfully.
Until he does, there will remain an undercurrent of thought that the blind trust has a good seeing-eye dog.