Thursday, October 22, 2015

UPDATE: More to come on the workings of special interests and legislators

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 7:24 AM

click to enlarge HUTCHINSON CHIEF OF STAFF: His outside income as legislator becomes an issue.
  • HUTCHINSON CHIEF OF STAFF: His outside income as legislator becomes an issue.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette joined the chase this morning on hidden ties of lobbyists and legislators, with its own reporting on Claudia Lauer's report on a political group's funneling of money to Asa Hutchinson's chief of staff, Michael Lamoureux, when he was head of the Arkansas Senate, and my report yesterday on a $30,000 loan by lobbyist Bruce Hawkins to Republican Sen. Jake Files.

I summarized much of this here. Go to this link for background on the loan and a big lobbyist-paid legislative steak feed.

Throughout these and other recent stories, such as those who throw most of the big free feeds for legislators, familiar names emerge, either as players or on the roster of involved lobbyists.

There's former Sen. Gilbert Baker. Nursing home owner Michael Morton. lobbyist Bruce Hawkins. Michael Lamoureux, as legislator and consultant and current high administration official. There's Marvin Parks, another former Republican lawmaker from Faulkner County and a lobbyist and registered agent when the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, which paid Lamoureux, dissolved. There's lobbyist Ted Mullenix, another former Republican legislator who leads the charge when dinners are to be arranged for legislative leaders. There's Chris Stewart, a Little Rock lawyer and busy incorporator of multiple PACs, often aimed at putting money in judicial races.

Here's an early prediction of where to look for further reporting — the Arkansas Civil Justice Institute, formerly known as Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform. Its director? Marvin Parks. Its aim? Making it harder to sue for damages. It's a nonprofit corporation. I don't currently have access to its full reporting, but its 2015 tax filing for 2014 is interesting. In calendar year 2014, it spent more than $147,000. Of that, more than $137,000 went to consulting services. I hope to find out today what consultant was paid. Board members for this organization include David Norsworthy, a nursing home owner and partner with Michael Morton and a Hutchinson appointee to the commission that oversees issuance of nursing home permits. Other Board members over the years have included former Arkansas state Rep. Scott Ferguson and Sylvester Smith, a lobbyist and Huckabee insider.

Its first tax report in 2011 showed a $200,000 contribution fro unnamed sources, but little in the way of expenditures. In 2012 (when Chris Stewart was secretary), the Civil Justice Institute spent $10,000 in consulting fees. 

In 2013, it spent $200,000
on consulting.

You can guess that lawsuit reform means "tort reform" legislation and getting the right sorts of people elected to judgeships. Who got their money? We hope to find out.

To be clear: No one has identified a law violation in this or any of the articles written previously by me, the AP's Lauer or the Democrat-Gazette. A smell has been identified.

I've sought information from Parks about who got consulting money from his group. Parks, by the way, is a lobbyist for Bi-Partisan Strategies whose clients include pharmaceutical companies, the Walton-financed charter school lobby Arkansas Learns and, naturally, the American Tort Reform Association.

Pressure is particularly high on Hutchinson, it seems to me. His chief of staff has been identified now on the payroll of what is a political lobby in deed if not in fact. I've reported before on his drawing legal pay from phone companies whose legislation he advocated. Has his law firm done work for others?

Interest in all of this rises because of growing indications that federal public corruption investigators have moved far beyond the Mike Maggio bribery case, in which Gilbert Baker and Michael Morton figure, but have not been charged. Bruce Hawkins also told me yesterday that he'd been questioned by investigators. While he said he had nothing to hide, he said he'd been asked by investigators not to speak publicly about it. I've confirmed as well that a sitting Arkansas legislator has been made aware of FBI interest in his business dealings. And I've also received indications that the probe could have overlap with another open investigation in which a former state legislator has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to help a mental health care business run by Ted Suhl. Only the legislator, Steven Jones, has been charged, but the Suhl companies have lost their state business. Out of a rich cast of characters in the intricate world of lobbying, legislating, lawyering and consulting, might some of the same cast of characters emerge there, too?

UPDATE: I asked Lamoureux by e-mail if he'd continued to earn legal fees or consultant fees while a member of the governor's staff. He responded:

"No."

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