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A Revolving Door Where Lobbying Rules Don't Apply

By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 21, 1997; Page A06

Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour typifies a Washington breed: the exalted party operative who moves easily between traditional political or fund-raising roles and lobbying, consulting and business initiatives for himself.

During his tenure at the RNC, Barbour raised millions of dollars for the party from tobacco, gambling, pharmaceutical, telecommunications and other interests. At the same time, he was meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders in legislative strategy sessions that affected some of those same interests.

Barbour's work for the RNC gave him access to an elite circle of corporate executives, wealthy Republican fund-raisers and GOP donors. Some of these same individuals later hired Barbour to lobby for them after he left the RNC.

If he were a member of Congress or a high executive branch official, Barbour would have been prohibited from lobbying his former colleagues so soon after leaving government service. But for political operatives, the "revolving door" rules on political lobbying do not apply.

During Barbour's chairmanship of the RNC, for example, tobacco companies contributed millions of dollars to the GOP. At the same time, Barbour intervened with state officials on the companies' behalf regarding tobacco legislation. In the spring of 1995, for instance, Barbour placed a call to the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, a Republican, to urge him to release a pro-tobacco bill that the speaker was holding up. The speaker refused.

After he left the RNC, Barbour's contacts with the tobacco companies stood him in good stead. He signed up four of them as lobbying clients. They included U.S. Tobacco, which had supplied a corporate jet for him on a 1996 campaign swing through California, and Philip Morris, which provided a helicopter on a Barbour stopover in Switzerland earlier the same year, according to his trip itinerary.

Some government watchdog organizations say the ethics rules that require a cooling-off period before retiring top government officials can lobby should be extended to cover senior officials of political parties.

"We probably need some system of accountability," said Kent Cooper, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "Any time you have an individual who is in a position such as party chairman, this person has more immediate entree. When that person suddenly switches hats and starts working on behalf of a private client, the question is raised: Does this person have a conflict of interest and who are they working for?"

Since joining his family's Yazoo City, Miss., law firm in 1973, Barbour has dipped in and out of several high-profile political jobs, while always staying alert for new business opportunities.

Barbour served as executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party from 1973 to 1976, as a top political adviser in the Reagan White House in the mid-1980s and as RNC chairman from 1993 to 1996.

After leaving the Reagan White House at the end of 1986, Barbour formed his own law firm, sharing office space with a longtime friend, lobbyist Donald L. Fierce. Quickly, Barbour was named director of several corporate boards, including that of Jackson, Miss.-based Mobile Telecommunications Technologies Corp. (Mtel), a wireless message and pager service. Mtel's proxy statement for 1996 lists Barbour as a director with 52,690 shares of the company's stock, worth about $500,000 at the end of the year.

During Barbour's reign at the RNC, Mtel kicked in $131,500 to Republican "soft money" committees while giving none to Democrats. The company was also an official sponsor of the 1996 Republican National Convention, and its subsidiary, SkyTel, lent dozens of its pagers to key Republicans during the convention, according to news accounts.

Before he took over as RNC chairman in 1993, Barbour promised to dissolve the law partnership he formed in 1991 with Alabaman Edward M. Rogers Jr. and end his lobbying activities. A protege of the late GOP political consultant Lee Atwater, Rogers had worked for Barbour in the Reagan White House and later served as executive assistant to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu in the Bush administration.

Records show that Barbour did not sever all his business ties when he went to the RNC. He continued to serve as director of a company he had established in 1990 with Fierce and a former American Petroleum Institute executive named Marc Himmelstein. National Environmental Strategies Co. was "a regulatory lobbying firm," Himmelstein said, created to help corporations deal with federal agencies implementing legislation concerning clean air rules, Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites and other issues. Fierce had accompanied Barbour to the RNC, but he, too, continued to serve as a director of the company.

Himmelstein said neither Barbour nor Fierce received any money from NES while at the RNC and that they were "not involved" in the business. "If we got clients, I was not aware that they came from the RNC," Himmelstein said. "I never received a call from Haley saying, `Call X.' I never had a potential client call and say Haley told me to call you." Himmelstein added that his company's revenue dropped in the first two years after Barbour and Fierce became inactive in the company.

Himmelstein said he did "give some ideas" to the GOP's National Policy Forum, a "think tank" that Barbour founded in 1993 and subsidized with RNC funds and corporate donations. The NPF convened more than a dozen conferences in 1995 and 1996 at which the industry point of view was aired on enforcement of Superfund and other environmental laws.

Many of the corporate donors to the NPF also contributed to the RNC, and some became clients of Barbour's former law firm or of Fierce & Associates, a lobbying firm that Donald Fierce set up after leaving the RNC in 1996, according to sources.

One of Fierce & Associates' early clients was the Republican Governors Association, which paid the company more than $60,000 for consulting services in 1996 out of an RNC soft money account. A Barbour associate said Barbour had nothing to do with Fierce's hiring by the governors organization.

Since leaving the RNC, Barbour has again received money from National Environmental Strategies, according to Himmelstein.

Besides resuming his relationship with NES and snagging the four tobacco companies as lobbying clients, Barbour built an impressive list of clients soon after leaving the RNC in January. They include Mutual Life Insurance Co., Daimler-Benz Aerospace of North America Inc., the Southern Co., U.S. Telephone Association and Delta Airlines.

Another is Federal Express Co., which gave more than $330,000 to the RNC while it was headed by Barbour and also donated to the National Policy Forum. All but two Republican senators last year voted for a heavily lobbied amendment to the Federal Aviation Act that would make it more difficult for unions to organize FedEx workers.

In addition to the lobbying business he has built since leaving the RNC, Barbour has become a shareholder in a partnership that, among other things, receives $15,000 a month in consulting fees from a Bozeman, Mont., lottery and gaming machine company. Video Lottery Technologies Inc. turned to Edward Rogers and others associated with him in 1993 because of their GOP connections and political expertise.

VLT initially hired Rogers to provide advice about trends in state politics, and to identify Republicans in state capitals whom the company could use as lobbyists or consultants as the GOP expanded its control over legislatures and governorships.

Current and former VLT officials said the aim was to raise the company's stature and increase its access to the state politicians who approve new gaming initiatives and write the regulations governing them.

On the advice of Rogers, VLT and a subsidiary chipped in $40,000 in 1994 to an RNC soft money arm that channels money into state elections.

In October 1994, at Rogers's suggestion, VLT hired International Equity Partners Inc. (IEP), an investment group that Rogers and 17 others had set up to find promising investments in big emerging markets abroad, such as India and China, and to provide consulting services to U.S. companies.

In addition to paying the $15,000 in monthly consulting fees to IEP, VLT hired Rogers's partner, former U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Burt, to be its chairman. Subsequently, IEP officials said, Rogers and Burt became the sole shareholders in a related company, IEP Advisors Inc., which received the $15,000 monthly consulting fees from VLT.

There is no evidence that Barbour played any role in putting Rogers and Burt together with VLT. But because Rogers divided his one-sixth share of the partnership with Barbour after he left the RNC, Barbour now stands to benefit from the relationship with the gaming machine company.

Barbour did not return phone calls in connection with this article. Rogers declined to comment for the record.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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