Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Familiar faces Gilbert Baker and Linda Flanagin join Capitol lobbying corps

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 5:25 PM

click to enlarge BUSINESS AS USUAL: Somehow, news that Gilbert Baker planned to lobby the legislature as if nothing much has happened in his life called to mind — both in image and philosophy — Mad magazine's famous symbol, Alfred E. Neuman.
  • BUSINESS AS USUAL: Somehow, news that Gilbert Baker planned to lobby the legislature as if nothing much has happened in his life called to mind — both in image and philosophy — Mad magazine's famous symbol, Alfred E. Neuman.
An interesting lobbyist registration form turned up in Secretary of State Mark Martin's office.

It is for MEJ Consulting, which says it will lobby members of the General Assembly, state government and Faulkner County government.

Contact: Gilbert Baker. He's the former Republican senator, former GOP chair, former U.S. Senate candidate, former paid hand for a conservative national group that promotes Religious Right candidacies and also a long-time laborer in the cause of so-called tort reform, or making it harder to sue corporations for damages and win substantive judgments. He lobbied for a dark time for UCA, too, where he's on leave from the music faculty.

Oh, and one more thing. He's been involved lately in that messy business related to former Judge Mike Maggio. Maggio entered a guilty plea to taking bribes in the form of campaign contributions to lower a $5.2 million jury verdict against a nursing home to $1 million. The criminal information against Maggio didn't identify related players, but "Individual B" fit the description of contribution intermediary Gilbert Baker. Baker did a lot of that work in 2014, bundling money for many others, often using Morton cash, including Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, various judicial candidates from Faulkner County and such legislative candidates as Stacy Hurst.

Also registered to lobby for MEJ in addition to Baker is Linda Leigh Flanagin. She's a former lobbyist and a former co-worker with Baker. Followers of the Maggio saga will remember she's been identified as the person who approached Michael Morton, the Fort Smith nursing home magnate, in a Little Rock restaurant about getting involved in a Baker plan to work with another Republican lawyer to set up a number of PACs that could funnel additional Morton nursing home money to candidates, particularly Maggio, who was sitting on a case against Morton's nursing home in Greenbrier. Contributions suspiciously timed with Maggio's verdict reduction — reported by Blue Hog — triggered a federal investigation that led to Maggio's plea.

Baker's new firm has one client reported so far — Oasis Legal Finance of Northbrook, Ill. It's in the "lawsuit loan" business. It loans money to people hoping to get settlements in personal injury cases. Needless to say, it's controversial.

MEJ lists its address as 1401 W. Capitol, Suite 247. Small world. That's also the address listed for a couple of other Republican operators — Bill Vickery and former Rep. John Burris and the firm for which they work, Capitol Advisors Group. Burris not a registered lobbyist, but rather "consultant" on governmental affairs for Capitol Advisors, which does include as lobbyists Bill Vickery, Mitchell Lowe and Mary Mendelsohn. Burris' specialty is health care.  The firm is also working on the effort by Sen. Jimmy HIckey to take over the Lottery Commission and deliver lottery operational work to one of Capitol Advisors' clients, a British gambling concern.

I asked John Burris the other day if his new employer had room for a desk for Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who's also going into the "political consulting business" and needs a phone room off Capitol premises. I'd thought Baker had been an occupant in that space at one time and perhaps might not be in the business anymore, given his recent troubles. Burris didn't respond to my question, but the filing gives me part of the answer.

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