Democratic State Rep. Joe Jett of Corning said University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway was at the Capitol at 8:30 a.m. this morning to talk to him about his complaint of campaign finance bundling activities by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker, who now makes $132,000 a year as UCA lobbyist and executive assistant to Courtway.
The Arkansas Blog reported yesterday on Baker’s extensive work as a money-raiser and one-time bankroller of Republican political campaigns through a shadowy nonprofit. He’s credited with bringing tens of thousands dollars this year into a number of Republican political campaigns, including state House candidate Stacy Hurst, and appellate court candidates such as Supreme Court candidate Rhonda Wood and Court of Appeals candidate Mike Maggio. Baker is tight with nursing home owners who’ve been major contributors. Baker as a senator led legislative efforts to make it harder to sue nursing homes through enactment of so-called tort reform legislation.
The report of a taxpayer-funded lobbying organizaing fund-raisers to defeat Democratic legislators angered Jett, who put a hold on UCA’s budget in the Joint Budget Committee. He’s released the hold because he said Courtway had agreed to address his concerns and he didn’t want “politics to interfere with kids and UCA staff.”
“We had a good visit,” Jett said of his talk with Courtway. “He assured me he’s going to take care of some stuff. I found him to be an honorable man. When I got assurances he was going to sit down and have a talk with Baker and try to clean some of it up for me, I released the budget”
He added, “I’m going to watch it.”
Courtway said Courtway didn’t defend Baker and “he certainly knew what was going on.”
Courtway yesterday defended Baker’s activities. He said they were done on Baker’s own time (he’s not on the clock, so that determination is Baker’s to make and several report fund-raising appeals by him during conventional officer hours). He also said it was constitutionally protected free speech — not just any personal contributions by Baker, but also organized activities to produce fund-raisers for individual candidates.
I’ve sent Courtway a message to ask about the meeting and whether his outlook has changed. He has not responded. I’ve also tried to reach Baker. No luck so far.