WASHINGTON -- Many Mississippians have benefited from Governor Haley Barbour's efforts to rebuild the state's devastated Gulf Coast in the two years since Hurricane Katrina struck. The $15 billion or more in federal aid the former Republican national chairman attracted has reopened casinos and helped resettle residents.
Among the beneficiaries are Barbour's own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business. A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel. FBI agents in June raided a company owned by the wife of a third nephew, which maintained federal emergency-management trailers.
Meanwhile, the governor's former lobbying firm, which he says is still making payments to him, has represented at least four clients with business linked to the recovery.
No evidence has surfaced that Barbour violated the law; at the same time, the pattern that emerges from public records and interviews raises "many red flags," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group in Falls Church, Va., that investigates the investments of government officials. "At the minimum, the public is entitled to a full explanation of the facts," he said.
Barbour, 59, who is running for reelection this year, turned down an interview request.
Mississippi records show that Henry and Austin Barbour, sons of Haley's older brother Jeppie, registered as state lobbyists soon after their uncle was elected in 2003. In January 2004, Henry, who managed the gubernatorial campaign, and Austin joined Capitol Resources LLC in Jackson, which represented such big-name clients as Lorillard Tobacco Co.
In July 2005, Capitol Resources signed on to represent Government Consultants Inc., a local firm that advises Mississippi and Louisiana on state bond issues. Deborah Phillips, president of Government Consultants, praised the work of Capitol Resources, saying Henry, 43, and Austin, 31, have "good resources."
After the Aug. 29, 2005, storm, Haley Barbour formed the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal and appointed Henry Barbour as its unpaid executive director. In an e-mail, Henry Barbour says he took a leave of absence from lobbying while volunteering on the commission.
Government Consultants paid $65,000 for Henry Barbour's lobbying from July 2005 through 2006, a period that included his work on the governor's commission, state records show. Principals in the firm also gave at least $27,500 to Haley Barbour's reelection campaign in 2006; Henry Barbour is the campaign's treasurer.
Among the commission's recommendations was the sale of bonds to finance the Katrina recovery. According to state reports and figures provided by Government Consultants, the firm landed about $2.4 million in Mississippi bond fees in 2006, including at least $400,000 from Katrina-related issues.
All told, Henry Barbour's lobbying fees -- $150,000 in 2004, his uncle's first year in office -- rose to $183,000 in 2005, the year of the hurricane, and $379,000 last year.
In his e-mail, Henry Barbour said, "I don't have any role with state bond issues in Mississippi." Steve Pittman, vice president of Government Consultants, said in an e-mail that most of the fees the company earns are awarded by cities and counties, not by the state.
Barbour said in his e-mail that he worked hard "to help position Mississippi for the best possible recovery," adding that having "the same last name as Governor Barbour clearly puts a target on my back."
He said Capitol Resources decided after the storm "to not take any new, recovery-related clients."