Ben Barnes was born in 1938 in De Leon, Texas. After graduating from the University of Texas and earning a law degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Barnes in 1960, at age 22, was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. He served there until 1969, the last four of those years as the youngest Speaker of the House in Texas history. From 1969 until 1973 Barnes was the state’s Lieutenant Governor.
After he was involved in a bribery and stock fraud scandal in the early 1970s,” wrote Mother Jones Magazine, Barnes “never held office again. He was involved with a number of banks and thrifts that were mentioned during the S&L crisis, and forced into bankruptcy when the Texas thrift industry cratered in the late 1980s.”
By the late 1990s Barnes had become a millionaire lobbyist working for GTech, a company that operated lotteries in 37 states, including Texas. The Texas lottery was losing money, in part because of a deal that allowed Barnes to receive 3.5 cents for every ticket sold — more than $3 million per year. When the Texas lottery commission re-bid GTech’s contract, the company sued and — after buying Barnes out for $23 million — hired a new lobbyist. A fired Texas lottery director sued, claiming that he had taken the fall for GTech because Barnes knew the details of a National Guard story (from the 1970s) embarrassing to then-Governor George W. Bush.
More than three decades after the alleged fact, on September 8, 2004 (two months before the presidential election), CBS‘s weeknight version of 60 Minutes aired a pre-recorded interview that newsman Dan Rather had conducted with Barnes, an interview in which Barnes asserted that during the Vietnam War, a friend of the family of George W. Bush had pressured Barnes, who was then the Democratic Lieutenant Governor, to get the young Mr. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard and thereby enable the latter to avoid facing a tour of duty in Vietnam. In the interview, Barnes claimed that he had in fact intervened as the Bush family friend had requested, and that Barnes was now “ashamed” of what he had done.
Critics noted that Barnes had been telling this story in various venues since 1999, changing the details several times. Moreover, the story had been thoroughly discredited by an investigation by the liberal Los Angeles Times. As CNN reported in 1999, “the Los Angeles Times said it found no evidence that either Bush or his father, former President George Bush, had personally tried to influence or pressure anyone to get the younger Bush a place in the Texas Guard.”
Ben Barnes was a co-chairman of John F. Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and, according to CBS News, made bundled contributions of more than $500,000 to Kerry’s campaign. Barnes owns a home near Kerry’s home in Nantucket on the Massachusetts shore.