Courtway: UCA lobbyist Baker, as political fund-raiser, 'like any other state employee' | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Courtway: UCA lobbyist Baker, as political fund-raiser, 'like any other state employee'

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 2:40 PM

click to enlarge BAKER POLITICKING OK: UCA boss Tom Courtway sees no issue.
  • BAKER POLITICKING OK: UCA boss Tom Courtway sees no issue.
Tom Courtway, president of University of Central Arkansas, responded to my call about UCA lobbyist Gilbert Baker's (nominally Courtway's executive assistant) busy work as a fund-raiser for political candidates. Baker has done much more than make an individual contribution, which is, of course, his constitutional right. He's been organizing fund-raisers and putting political candidates in touch with potential donors, particularly in the nursing home industry according to people in Conway.

I wrote this morning about two candidates, Republican legislative candidate Stacy Hurst, and Supreme Court candidate Rhonda Wood, who'd been particular beneficiaries of Baker's help, but there are a number of others.

Courtway said he's unconcerned. 

"He's like any other state employee. He can do on his own time whatever he wants to do" in a political realm, Courtway said.

He said Baker, who makes $132,000 a year, isn't on a clock, but he was confident that Baker provided enough hours that whatever work he devoted to fund-raising, even if during conventional office hours, was on his own time.

Just because he has the job he has it shouldn't limit his constitutional right to political participation, Courtway said. 

Just because something is legal, I argued, doesn't make it right. Courtway, a lawyer, stuck to the narrow legal argument. A taxpayer-funded lobbyist, firmly identified with a public institution, arranging for money to be funneled to people who will vote on the institution's appropriation? Doesn't look good. A taxpayer-funded lobbyist doing all his work on virtually one side of the political spectrum and specializing in an area — tort reform— of little relevance to higher education? Doesn't look good. Tom Courtway's pledge to clean UCA of the unfortunate aroma left by some previous presidents? Doesn't look good.

As a simply practical matter, Baker has made political enemies by picking and choosing legislators to favor. In private sector lobbying, this isn't unusual. It's a bit unusual for someone paid by the people he's helping elect — or defeat.

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