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The 2012 Vote

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Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Dampens Political Firestorm with Republican Cash

January 24th 2012

Politics - Haley Barbour
Haley Barbour

Last month, about two dozen deep-pocketed Republicans gathered in New York City to hear a money pitch from then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. A prodigious GOP fund-raiser, Barbour was already in high gear on his next political mission — raising tens of millions of dollars for two powerful groups to help the GOP take control of the White House and Congress. Billionaire financier Ken Langone, a founder of Home Depot who co-hosted the event, said “the response was very good.” He declined to offer details.

Well before leaving the governor’s mansion last week, Barbour, the former super lobbyist and Republican Party leader, started traveling around the country, hitting up donors for six- and seven-figure checks for American Crossroads, and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS. Those groups, created by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, are aiming to raise $300 million this election — up from the $71 million they raised in 2010. And now they have arguably the most successful fundraiser in recent decades helping them out.

In a series of private meetings that have not been disclosed before, last fall Barbour began pitching groups of super-rich donors. In Wyoming, he visited billionaire Foster Friess, who, like Langone, has extensive ties to Barbour. Friess donated almost $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association in 2010 when Barbour chaired the group. “The thing that distinguishes Haley Barbour’s fundraising is his effectiveness,” Friess told iWatch News. “Or, as Haley would phrase it, ‘putting lead in the target.’” Friess said he’s seriously mulling Barbour’s new requests, but he hasn’t ponied up yet.

For the 64-year-old, white-haired, smooth-talking Barbour, winning the White House would be the big prize this year. About half the funds the Crossroads groups raise are slated to go to the White House effort, say three donors who’ve been pitched by Barbour or others. “Haley’s determined to get (President Barack) Obama out of the White House,” Henry Barbour, his nephew and a lobbyist in Mississippi said in an interview. “That’s certainly his major focus for 2012. Now the intensity will pick up.” Haley Barbour declined several requests for an interview.

Barbour will not only accelerate his unpaid fundraising blitz for the Crossroads groups, but also is rejoining the powerhouse lobbying firm BGR Group that he founded almost two decades ago where he will be both a rainmaker and a hands-on lobbyist. The firm’s client mix includes several business giants and trade groups, like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. BGR also represents foreign firms and governments including some with unsavory human rights records, like Kazakhstan.

And Barbour has already lined up at least a half-dozen speaking gigs through February, mostly to business groups, for fees that range from $30,000 to $50,000 a pop, say long-time associates. Welcome to the world of Haley Barbour — or how a super fundraiser and a super lobbyist juggles multiple roles, a feat he mastered during the 1990s in Washington. Back then he led the RNC for four years when it won control of Congress and he made a fortune lobbying on behalf of behemoths like tobacco firm RJR, energy giant Southern Co. and several other Fortune 500 businesses.

This time around though, Barbour is starting his new political and personal business projects at a sensitive moment. The former governor is also trying to put out a political firestorm in Mississippi that was sparked by 215 pardons — including 17 to convicted murders — he issued in his last days in office earlier this month. The new GOP governor, Phil Bryant, has indicated he would back a constitutional amendment to limit the pardoning powers of the governor; and the state’s Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, called Barbour’s sweeping pardons “an absolute tragedy for the victims involved in each of these cases.”

The high-decibel attacks on Barbour in the Magnolia state have sent shock waves up and down K Street where Ed Rogers, one of his partners at BGR, last week scrambled to contain the fallout. According to sources, Rogers urged Barbour to move quickly to tamp down the controversy by giving his own full account of what he did and why he did it, lest it hurt Barbour’s effectiveness and image — and perhaps the firm’s lucrative bottom line.

Barbour launched his own media defense this week with an op-ed in the Washington Post and an appearance on CBS Morning News. He said that 189 of the 215 pardons went to people who were already out of jail and he stressed that the others — including five murderers who did work in the governors’ mansion — “are not threats to society.” GOP veterans like lobbyist Charlie Black say the ruckus down South will blow over and Barbour’s fundraising, at least, won’t be impacted.

“Haley has been the best fundraiser in the GOP for the last 20 years and has the confidence of people who are givers and raisers of money, regardless of recent events,” Black told iWatch News. “His fundraising skills will not be affected by the recent events in Mississippi because he will be going to people who have trusted him for two decades.” That’s clearly what the Crossroads groups are banking on.

The two Crossroads groups were launched by Rove and Gillespie to capitalize on court rulings in early 2010 that gave the green light to individuals, corporations and unions to write seven-figure checks for ads that can directly back or oppose candidates. American Crossroads is a “super PAC” and must report its donors to the Federal Election Commission. Crossroads GPS is a nonprofit corporation that doesn’t need to disclose its donors publicly.

Barbour’s long career as a fundraiser with easy entrée to scores of big donors has given him a huge head start. In 2010 when he chaired the RGA it raised a record $117 million. “I’ve known Haley and worked with him for a long time,” said Langone, who hosted the New York event. Langone also wrote a $25,000 check to American Crossroads last year. Langone added that “I intend to get involved with Barbour and Rove and help the Kochs,” referring to the multi-billionaire brothers, Charles and David, champions of politically conservative movements. Like the Crossroads groups, the Kochs have built a network of mega donors and plan to pump as much as $200 million into the upcoming elections.

Langone explained that his GOP fundraising was spurred in part by his critical view of Democratic economic policies.  “I think we desperately need an environment that encourages business to create jobs,” he said. “I believe that trickle-down economics works. There are any number of jobs that one person’s success can be created from.” Langone is just one of scores of wealthy individual and corporate donors who know and like Barbour and have opened their checkbooks wide for him before and are starting to do so again.

In late November, Barbour traveled to Sarasota, Fla., and successfully wooed a wealthy donor to help a Crossroads group, say fundraisers familiar with his visit. When Barbour joined the Crossroads groups last fall they announced that they were aiming to double their previously stated goal for the year of $120 million to at least $240 million, testimony to their faith in his Midas touch — but a very ambitious target.

Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and co-founder of the Crossroads groups, is very bullish on Barbour noting that he’s widely respected within the party and the conservative world. “His affiliation with Crossroads shows it’s the gold standard.” That’s why with Haley Barbour freed up to do much more than he did last fall, the two groups are aiming for the big “trifecta,” as they’ve dubbed it, of taking back the executive branch and both houses of Congress.

Peter H. Stone writes for iWatch News, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, from where this article is reprinted.


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