JACKSON Amid all the clamor recently over Gov. Mitt Romney's financials—shell companies in Bermuda, Swiss bank accounts, apparent control of Bain Capital well after he says he left the company—one critic's voice rang a little hollow. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, lobbyist-turned-governor-turned-lobbyist Haley Barbour, formerly of the great state of Mississippi, had this to say about Romney releasing his tax returns: "I would."
Apparently, Mr. Barbour doesn't anticipate getting the VP nod from Mr. Romney, or you'd think he'd be nicer to the candidate. And given his own shady dealings on personal financials when he was running for election and re-election as governor here, you think Barbour would be a bit more coy.
In 2007, the JFP wrote about Haley's feet-dragging on releasing information about his blind trust, and what, exactly, his ties were to his old firm, Barbour Griffin and Rogers (BGR), a high-powered GOP lobbying firm with Washington, D.C., offices. The true nature of his connection to the firm was answered in part soon after Barbour left office—he returned to BGR within hours of leaving the governor's mansion, according to a press release the firm issued. (Perhaps his governorship might fairly be characterized as a "paid sabbatical" from BGR?)
Barbour never made it terribly clear why he continued to get paid by BGR while he was in office. He called it, at times, "retirement" although BGR had no compatible retirement program anyone was aware of, and it was otherwise referred to as "profit sharing." It was especially worrisome because BGR was lobbying in the state after Katrina and representing casino interests.
Our story, "Haley's Shadow Money," during his re-election campaign in 2007, reported that Barbour's attorney, Ed Brunini, insisted that Barbour had done nothing illegal under state law. But Mississippi ethics law is very weak.
Bloomberg wrote that if Barbour has nothing to hide, he should honor the spirit of public accountability and offer full disclosure. But Barbour resisted even making his tax returns public even as governor—which ran counter to the actions of former governors. (Sound familiar?)
The Mississippi Ethics Commission said it couldn't tell if the governor had any conflict of interest with his position as governor because they didn't have enough information to make an evaluation. "We're not making up that answer," Ethics Commission Director Tom Hood told the Jackson Free Press then.
Now, we're in a similar boat with Romney refusing to release tax returns that, presumably, show stuff that could sink his aspirations or, at least, make him seem disingenuous. We can hope that voters bring more pressure on Romney to be transparent than Mississippians did on Barbour. It is unacceptable that a man running for president responds the way Barbour did as governor: "I won't."
Correction: The above story reflects a correction. We originally mistyped that Barbour's re-election campaign was in 2002, rather than 2007. His initial campaign was in 2002. We apologize for the error.