Brown to investigate leak of governor’s finances

Published 11:54 pm Saturday, September 15, 2007

NATCHEZ — Former Natchez City Attorney Walter Brown will investigate how Gov. Haley Barbour’s personal financial information was leaked, the state ethics commission announced Friday.

Under state law, it is a misdemeanor to release a public official’s financial information without the individual’s permission.

Barbour set up a blind trust before he took office, a common practice on the federal level but one rarely, if ever, seen on the state level, Brown said.

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In a blind trust, an official hands over control of his investments to a trustee.

“The theory behind it is, you don’t know what your trustee is doing,” Brown said. “So, if you make decisions (as a public official), at least theoretically, it’s not something you try to do to benefit yourself.”

There was some question as to whether or not using a blind trust complied with state disclosure law, Brown said. So, Barbour asked the ethics committee to render an opinion on the matter.

Some time after that, Bloomberg News Service acquired the information.

Brown’s job will be to find out how the information was leaked and from what source, he said.

Brown, former chair of the ethics committee, stepped down in December. Barbour did not request an opinion on the issue until earlier this year, Brown said.

“As soon as I get the information at hand as to what all is involved, I’m authorized to employ a professional investigator to assist me,” Brown said. “I will undertake that responsibility and hopefully determine where the breach of confidence was and report back to the commission.”

Brown said the commission asked him to look into the matter because he was separate from the commission.

“It’s important to me that the process remain something people have respect for,” he said.

Brown will be able to look at agencies involved in the blind trust and opinion process, from banks to law firms to governing entities, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.