Another day and another illustration of how the nursing home lobby builds the sort of influence in the legislature that helped it win favorable Medicaid reimbursement rules and increased profitability.
I’ve written before about Sen. Gilbert Baker, who once was paid by the Faith and Freedom Coalition while a legislator to help elect Republicans and who now helps bundle political contributions for Republican and properly-inclined judicial candidates. He’s a $132,000-a-year publicly paid lobbyist for the University of Central Arkansas, a job he took immediately after leaving the legislature. But UCA President Tom Courtway assures me that Baker’s political bundling and the private consulting business he organized, LRM Consulting, is work after his UCA day is done.
I mentioned before that Baker had claimed organizational credit for a Little Rock fund-raiser that he’d touted to others as a $100,000 haul for Little Rock City Director Stacy Hurst, a Republican candidate for state House. (This, by the way, was before I knew she’d face Democrat Clarke Tucker in the fall. Nonetheless, as I said at the outset of his candidacy, Tucker and his family are personal friends. He’ll be recipient of financial support from my wife, so consider me a tainted source.)
Hurst’s opening fund-raising report is now on file. She raised $115,000. The fine hand of Baker is present, as promised, just as it has been in early reports from a variety of judicial candidates from Faulkner County, particularly Mike Maggio, who abandoned his Court of Appeals race amid scandal. UPDATE: However, I didn’t mean to imply in the original post Baker should be credited with all the money, no matter what he might hve said. Hurst has plenty of political experience and contacts. Certainly she was capable of raising some of this money, such as from the Stephens empire, on her own.
But, again, as with other Baker-favored candidates, one industry was noticeably well represented. Nursing home magnate Michael Morton of Fort Smith gave $10,000 to Hurst in the name of himself and various nursing home enterprises. Hurst got another $5,050 from the six PACs set up by Republican lawyer Chris Stewart (who comes from the same Religious Right end of the spectrum that supports Baker). These were the PACs that all got $3,000 contributions from Morton or his companies during a time when Maggio was considering what would be a $4.2 million reduction in a jury verdict against a Morton nursing home. The PACs all gave money initially to Maggio.
Hurst’s political consultant, Clint Reed, tells me Hurst has returned the contributions from the Stewart-created PACs. A prudent idea.
Hurst also got $2,000 from Baker himself and $250 from Linda Flanagin, an employee of the LRM Consulting he created. She also got $2,000 from Sen. Eddie Joe Williams’ personal PAC, a PAC financed in part by $5,000 from Morton. She got $4,000 from the Arkansas nursing home PAC in two contributions and $2,000 in four $500 contributions from other nursing home facilities.
Put the report together and you find $25,000 or so reported from the nursing home/Gilbert Baker connection alone (not counting others he might have encouraged to attend the Edgeheill Road party he helped organize). The total has now been reduced by the $5,050 returned.
In Hurst’s defense, candidates go to nursing homes for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. That’s where the money is. Though the Baker/Stewart money bundling is directed at a clearly defined political end of the spectrum, the nursing home money is spent on candidates of both parties. Morton historically has given to both Democrats and Republicans. I expect he will be a supporter of Mike Ross. It remains to be seen if he’ll contribute a percentage to that race comparable to what he’s put into, say, those judicial races — particularly the unopposed races of Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood for seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
I’d add, too, that people I respect defend Morton as an operator of good-quality nursing homes, a place nobody wants to end up but also a place for which thousands of families are grateful for the burden they assume of caring for aging and debilitated relatives. I’ve also heard a strong defense of Morton for acting promptly and sternly in response to the failure of an employee to properly transmit a doctor’s order for hospitalization at a Greenbrier nursing home. That failure resulted in agonizing final hours of life for a patient near death, a patient whose suffering led to the $5.2 million verdict Maggio reduced.
But we have campaign finance disclosure laws — as inadequate and opaque as they can be — for a reason. Follow the money and who guides it. If you can pierce the PAC money swapping and corporate veils by which individuals can multiply their support. It helps understand the sausage-making.