A private prison and a lobbyist bribe the state
A Helena lobbyist named Mark Baker stands to gain a great deal if the state accepts CoreCivic’s money. CoreCivic, the company that runs Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby, has offered to release $30 million of the taxpayers’ money back to the state as long as the state agrees to extend the company’s contract another ten years. CoreCivic is one of Baker’s clients. Crossroads Correctional Center is Montana’s only privately run prison.
Mike Dennison, of KTVH, reported this week that “the money would come from a fund set aside to help the state buy the privately owned and operated Crossroads Correctional Center near Shelby, after 2019. The state has been paying into the fund since 1999, as part of its contract with prison owner CoreCivic, but the company controls the fund.”
This is where things get interesting. Baker, the powerful lobbyist orchestrating CoreCivic’s bribery, also represents big tobacco in the halls of Montana Legislature.
A tax on the sale of tobacco products (which are responsible for nearly a third of cancer-related deaths in Montana) has been floated as a viable option to help solve the state’s budget troubles and will likely be proposed during a special legislative session. It’s Baker’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
For a frame of reference, CoreCivic (formally Corrections Corporation of America) spent over $39,000 lobbying the Montana Legislature and Altria (Baker’s big tobacco client) spent an astounding $98,000 on lobbyists and $42,000 on support staff for lobbying.
Baker exploits the state’s budget crisis for the benefit of his big dollar clients
If CoreCivic’s offer is accepted, not only will Montana’s only private prison remain private and get an extension, but big tobacco will dodge a tax increase, as well. It’s a win-win-win for CoreCivic, big tobacco, and Baker. Baker will get a pat on the back from CoreCivic (in addition to a big check) and will use the $30 million as leverage with legislators in the House and Senate to kill a tax on tobacco during the special session.
A history of abusing power
All the way back in 2002, Baker was criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for taking advantage of his close relationship with Governor Judy Martz for the benefit of his own clients. In 2012, Baker was named the Hypocrite of the Week “for standing up for the legal rights of his clients while fighting in the legislature to limit the legal rights of everyone else.”
More about this lobbyist
Baker is a managing partner with law firm Anderson, Baker & Swanson (good luck googling that firm). Baker is also on the board of advisors for GCS Holdings, Inc., and was on the board for the Montana Taxpayers Association and Treasure State Resource Industry Association. Baker also has close ties to the national Republican Party, including President George W. Bush, Governor Mitt Romney, Representative Rick Hill, and Senator Marco Rubio, who he served as state campaign chair for.
You can view Baker’s list of clients HERE