JACKSON, Miss. - First, Mississippi's Democrats shielded Attorney General Jim Hood against the Republicans latest attack on him. Then, they went on the offensive.
The Mississippi Democratic Party said Friday that the state Republicans' call for sunshine laws in the Attorney General's office is duplicitous, given Republican Gov. Haley Barbour's ties to a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm.
"The Republican Party attack on Attorney General Jim Hood is a hypocritical political stunt," said Wayne Dowdy, chairman of the MDP.
"The fact is that records of the Attorney General are open for all to see, as compared to Gov. Barbour's blind trust which leaves only the people of Mississippi blindly trusting."
Democrats, in particular Governor-hopeful John Eaves, say Barbour maintains a connection with Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, the lobbying firm Barbour helped found. Barbour has said he put all his personal financial holdings into a blind trust, and Bloomberg News recently reported he still receives $300,000 a year from the firm.
Eaves insinuates Barbour is working on behalf of large tobacco and insurance companies, though Barbour says it isn't true. The two face off in the general election Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, Hood's 2005 settlement with MCI continues to be a hot issue for Republicans. The lawsuit dealt with back taxes allegedly owed to the State as a result of the 2002 collapse of MCI's predecessor, Worldcom.
Hood hired Boonesville attorney Joey Langston, a campaign contributor, to represent the Attorney General's office as a special assistant attorney general. As a result of the settlement, Langston's firm received $14 million, paying a Louisiana firm $7 million for first noticing the alleged problem.
Also, the three trial lawyers hired by Hood to help represent the state in a lawsuit against five insurance companies who allegedly shortchanged policyholders after Hurricane Katrina were all contributors to his campaign in 2003.
Sunshine laws would be intended to "to protect the taxpayers of this state so the taxpayers won't have a $14 million dollar fee of taxpayers dollars given to somebody without the general public knowing that the contract existed and without any time sheet presented," according to GOP chairman Jim Herring.
Earlier this year, a sunshine bill authored by Republican Sen. Charlie Ross died in the House Judiciary Committee after passing through the Senate. The bill required that anytime attorneys fees are reasonably expected to surpass $1 million and outside counsel will be used, the Attorney General would gather three proposals from law firms and submit them to a contract review board.
Recently, Hood said state contracts with law firms are given on a "first-come-first-serve" basis. If a firm has an idea for a case and the State agrees, the firm is allowed to pursue the case with state backing.
Hood is facing Republican Al Hopkins in this year's general election.