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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Bagman Papers: Ethics report on Baker, Morton, Maggio and Co.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 11:02 AM

click to enlarge MONEY RAISING NEVER ENDS: So says nursing home owner and deep pockets Michael Morton.
  • MONEY RAISING NEVER ENDS: So says nursing home owner and deep pockets Michael Morton.
Political junkies might like to read the 46-page report by the Arkansas Ethics Commission staff that arose following complaints about campaign contributions to former judicial candidate Mike MaggioI summarized some of it earlier.

Here's the full report.
There are rich details in the full report, which illuminates the sometimes unseemly dickering that goes on behind the scenes as candidates, supporters and consultants figure out how to obtain the mother's milk of politics — money. Some examples:

* PAC ABUSE: The report makes clear that multiple PACs were set up — legally — as a means of evading the $5,000 individual contribution limit to individual PACs. Michael Morton could give only $5,000 per PAC. But with guidance from Gilbert Baker and legal help from Chris Stewart, PACs could be created sufficient for Morton to pump as much as he wanted to pump into Mike Maggio's campaign and those of other candidates he favored, such as rising Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood.

* CONTRIBUTION ABUSE: In addition to PAC loopholes, nursing home owner Morton also is able to contribute to the $2,000 individual maximum in the name of each corporate entity he controls, A couple dozen of them are available.

* CONWAY COUNTY POLITICS: Pages 3-9 of the report detail the involvement of Bruce Hawkins, the former legislator, scion of legendary Sheriff Marlin Hawkins and Conway County power lobbyist. He created a second PAC that received money from Morton. He points the finger for everything that happened at Gilbert Baker. And at lawyer Chris Stewart, who was paid a $2,500 retainer for PAC creation for Hawkins. The report describes Baker as one of Mr. Hawkins' paid consultants at his lobbying firm and said he remained in that status through May, 2014, a relationship Baker has not disclosed as far as I can determine. The Baker connection may also explain how money from the Conway County Legal Beverage Association, which Hawkins works with, contributed to Sen. Jason Rapert, an outspoken foe of the effort to create retail liquor competition in Faulkner County for Hawkins' clients in Conway County. The Conway liquor retailers put $5,000 in the PAC Stewart created for Hawkins. Hawkins mostly blamed all the PAC's activities on Stewart and said he was not consulted. Hawkins, though he said he'd only met Maggio once, gave him $6,000 through personal and corporate contributions. Hawkins said he does not represent nursing homes, but Arkansans for Tort Reform, for whom Baker worked, was one of his clients until May 15, when Baker's role with Hawkins' firm ended. 

* HOW IT WORKS: Nursing home deep pockets Morton on his theory of giving:

There is no campaign cycle in Mr. Morton's opinion. Campaigning is an industry; it is big for journalism, media, it is big for everything. Candidates want to build up money early to scare their opponents away, so he is asked early, every time. It never ends, he reiterated. It starts for him as soon as one election is over for the next. People get to him early and often. He wants that, however, because he wants to be able to have access to talk to them about his industry so they can provide quality care for the elderly in Arkansas.

He insisted neither he nor his representatives ever had any improper communications about the Maggio case and donations weren't meant to influence. "The only thing he ever wants is for the judge to follow the law," was how the report quoted Morton.

Morton said he had worked with Baker for years, but didn't specify if that included his time in the legislature. He noted that he gives freely — to "every person running for attorney general" and to "both people running for governor," including more than $60,000 to Mike Ross.

If businesses do not give money, the other side is paid for by the taxpayers, Morton told investigators.

* PAC MAN: Chris Stewart explained his involvement came from a long association with Baker, when he was counsel for the Arkansas Republican Party. They became better acquainted when he worked for Asa Hutchinson's gubernatorial campaign. He described how Baker or an employee would drop off money for the PACs he created at Baker's direction.

* JUDICIAL ETHICS: In theory, judicial candidates are supposed to be separate from their fund-raising committees. In practice, nobody really believes all judicial candidates wall themselves off from how much is raised and who gives it. That's illustrated  in interviews with Maggio's campaign consultant and Maggio's now-wife, who handled campaign finances, about the importance of raising money and the progress.

* PLUMBING FOR MONEY: Maggio's consultant Clint Reed said that his firm provides clients with public documents to use for campaign solicitations

like the concealed handgun list [my emphasis supplied], hunting and fishing license lists and lawyers

You can understand my interest in finding a Republican candidate with Republican consultants relying on a concealed handgun list (presumably dated, given that the law now prohibits its release). 

* BAGMAN BAKER: "As a fundraiser, he is constantly receiving donations," says the report. He said about 40 people wanted him to fund-raise and he was "probably helping 28 or 30." The report indicated Baker had many losses of memory related to his dealings with Michael Morton.  Baker acknowledged being paid as a "consultant" while working for UCA. But he said he wasn't paid for fund-raising by campaigns.

* BAD TIMING: Maggio said the timing of checks to the PAC and his nursing home decision was an "unfortunate coincidence." He said he hadn't expected nursing home money, thinking they'd stay away because he had a high-profile nursing home case.

* LYING TO YOUR CONSULTANT: The report reveals the drama that occurred when a last-minute candidate filed to run against Maggio. Reed called Maggio to say it didn't make sense because Maggio had raised money and been to every county. Were there things he didn't know?

Judge Maggio responded by saying that Mr. Reed knows everything and that he had told him everything. Then on the following Saturday or Sunday, the Blue Hog Report broke the story, so Mr. Reed called Judge Maggio and said he needed to explain the 'Tiger droppings.com/anonymous posting' to him.

Reed said he typically asked every candidate what was the worst thing that could be said about them. He thought he knew everything about Maggio. "Come to find out that was not the case."

To shorten the rest of the story: And here we are.

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