Over the last three years, former Mississippi senator Trent Lott’s lobbying firm has been paid a total of $680,000 to represent the interests of shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., and his old Mississippi colleague Sen. Thad Cochran has always had an open door, working to approve $6 billion in contracts for Huntington Ingalls in the last two years alone for Coast Guard Cutters, Navy Destroyers and an amphibious transport dock. A search of Cochran’s Senate websites brings up 110 hits for the company and Cochran toured one of their facilities in Mississippi as recently as March.
Now Lott, the lobbyist, is paying Cochran, the appropriator, back by shooting a 30-second campaign ad on his behalf. In a new ad released today, Lott encourages Mississippians to vote for Cochran in a primary run-off with Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel. “Over the years we had to fight for funds and contracts for Ingalls,” Lott says in the ad. “That’s why on June the 24th we have a critical election about our future. Without Thad Cochran we could lose some of these important facilities.”
Of course, Lott is a former senator from Mississippi who remains popular in the state, so the ad could carry some weight—indeed, if it’s counted as a campaign contribution there’s no accounting the value of the ad in the campaign finance system. And he is an old friend of Cochran’s, having served decades with him side-by-side in the Senate.
Still, even if Lott had the purest of motives, the risk that someone would make the connection between his lobbying and Cochran seems like it’s not worth filming this spot. It screams conflict of interest. Because if you didn’t know Lott and Cochran were lifelong friends, it could look like Lott is working to save his gravy train. After all, Lott’s firm also represents Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, two other companies that benefit from Cochran’s work as the top Republican on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Cochran may be desperate given McDaniel’s surge in the polls, but this wasn’t the wisest ad to cut.