WASHINGTON – A GOP telemarketing firm implicated in two criminal prosecutions involving election dirty tricks got its startup money from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, financial records show.
Barbour's investment company arranged a quarter-million-dollar loan to GOP Marketplace in 2000 and also gave a promotional plug to the telemarketer several months later, according to Virginia corporation records and other documents.
A spokesman for the governor said Barbour had no idea the company would engage in criminal activity. The lawyer for the now-defunct company's convicted president said Barbour was not consulted about its operations.
"None of the creditors had any role in the management or activities of the company. In fact, the loan was not fully repaid," gubernatorial spokesman Buddy Bynum said. "There has never been any claim that Governor Barbour or any of the other creditors knew of any illegal conduct or did anything improper."
Barbour, who became Mississippi governor in 2003, gushed over the prospects of GOP Marketplace in a company press release in 2000. He predicted it would be profitable and "give Republicans an edge" by using the Internet to buy and sell telemarketing services.
The loan made Barbour and his Washington business partners part owners of the company, the incorporation papers show.
By 2002, federal court records contend, GOP Marketplace president Allen Raymond and the Alexandria, Va.-based company were carrying out political dirty tricks in New Hampshire and New Jersey.
Raymond, who once worked for Barbour at the Republican National Committee, is serving a three-month prison term after pleading guilty to arranging for hundreds of hang-up calls in New Hampshire in 2002. The calls jammed Democratic phone lines that were offering people assistance in getting to polling stations in a close U.S. Senate race.
In a New Jersey indictment, prosecutors said Raymond and his company were implicated in a separate scheme to make harassing calls to voters, but neither was indicted. Rather, the indictment charged the losing candidate who hired Raymond. Ex-candidate James Treffinger pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and mail fraud.
GOP Marketplace's New Jersey operation preceded the New Hampshire phone jamming and used a different tactic, prosecutors said. Raymond arranged for annoying "attack ad" calls during the 2002 Super Bowl. The ads attacked a Treffinger opponent, but appeared to come from a third candidate. Treffinger served spent 13 months in prison.
The Treffinger indictment did not name Raymond, but referred to a political consultant. Lawyers confirmed Raymond was the unnamed consultant mentioned in the indictment.
Barbour's spokesman said Raymond "engaged in illegal conduct and was appropriately prosecuted and convicted" in the New Hampshire matter.
Raymond's lawyer in New Hampshire said Barbour had no role in running the telemarketing company after arranging the financing.
"Allen Raymond was in full control of all of the operations and did not look for guidance from any of his investors," lawyer John Durkin said. "The phone jamming was not reviewed or discussed, and permission was not sought or received, and there was no consultation with investors."
Barbour is the latest prominent Republican to be connected to Raymond and GOP Marketplace.
President Bush's former campaign chairman for New England has been convicted in the New Hampshire case, and The Associated Press reported April 10 that key figures in the phone jamming had regular contact with the White House — and Republican officials — as the scheme unfolded.
Records of the calls were introduced as court exhibits in New Hampshire and analyzed by the Senate Majority Project, a Democratic organization that is trying to help the party wrest control of the Senate from the GOP.
The White House political office, recipient of most of the calls, was run in 2002 by the current Republican national chairman, Ken Mehlman. He denies any calls were related to the jamming, contending the discussions focused only on the close election won by John Sununu, R-N.H.
GOP Marketplace was incorporated in Virginia on May 19, 2000, Virginia records show. An investment company called Helm Partners, with the Washington address of Barbour's lobbying firm, lent GOP Marketplace $246,700.
According to the operating agreement, the loan gave the investors a stake in the company.
The agreement was signed by Barbour's lobbying partner, Edward Rogers, by Raymond and by Tommy Hopper, who worked for Barbour at the RNC and was a state Republican chairman in Tennessee.
In a company news release from Aug. 7, 2000, announcing the agreement, Barbour praised the company's use of the Internet and described his own role.
"I am convinced that GOP Marketplace will not only be a profitable business, but will also give Republicans an edge in the 2000 elections," he said.
"Campaign managers are always battling time constraints, and GOP Marketplace will clearly save campaigns time. As soon as I heard about the idea, I started pulling together the necessary financing."