Sunday, January 18, 2015

Michael Morton's reach in Arkansas politics and the Gilbert Baker tie

Posted By on Sun, Jan 18, 2015 at 10:12 AM

click to enlarge BAGMAN: Former GOP Sen. Gilbert Baker is integral to any story about 2014 political contributions by nursing home magnate Michael Morton. Horse and carriage, you might say.
  • BAGMAN: Former GOP Sen. Gilbert Baker is integral to any story about 2014 political contributions by nursing home magnate Michael Morton. Horse and carriage, you might say.
Fine effort in this morning's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Lisa Hammersly to expand on a favorite topic of mine — nursing home magnate Michael Morton's extensive campaign finance efforts. It's here, but subscription is required.

With help from a nonprofit that researches state campaign spending, the D-G concluded that Morton had given $1.25 million in 15 years to various races. This doesn't cover all possible races in which he might have contributed. I'm also not clear if it gets to his many contributions to PACs that in turn gave money to candidates.

It's a whopping sum, nonetheless.

The article reported, as I have, on Morton contributions to five sitting members of the Arkansas Supreme Court, led by the recently elected Rhonda Wood. Wood is notable not only for the size of her contributions from Morton and other nursing home owners (roughly $70,000), but from her home in Faulkner County, also home to bagman Gilbert Baker.

Baker used his ties with Morton to help raise money not only for Wood and the defrocked Mike Maggio, who's pleaded guilty to being influenced by Morton contributions arranged through Baker to reduce a $5.2 million verdict against a Morton nursing home to $1 million. Neither Baker nor Morton have been charged with a crime, please note.

The D-G didn't have room to get into every detail. It focused on those who'd received $20,000 or more from Morton.

I wish, for useful context, they'd have also focused on his general like for putting money into the judicial system. Not just Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (who got $88,000) but also into circuit court races, including one for the successor to Maggio. Again, Morton's fondness for contributing to Faulkner County candidates and Baker's presence there are interesting facets of Morton's effort to win friends and influence judges. And don't forget Sen. Jason Rapert, another favored by Morton money. I rounded up the Faulkner County connection here — including judicial candidates Troy Braswell, Doralee Chandler and David Clark.

The $20,000 cutoff set by the D-G for highlighting just barely cut off — technically — at least one other notable state legislative candidate. That would be Stacy Hurst who lost a House race in Little Rock. Gilbert Baker boasted of the money he'd raised for Hurst in her initial campaign filing, taking credit for $100,000 of the $115,000. Baker is not exactly trustworthy. But the filing did show $10,000 from Michael Morton, plus $5,000 from those PACs Baker set up with Chris Stewart to funnel additional money from Michael Morton into candidacies. Hurst refunded the PAC money, but not the direct Michael Morton money. He made up for it in the final campaign filing period with another $8,000 for Hurst, leaving him at $18,000 directly. It could have been $23,000 but for that unfortunate publicity.

Morton has said repeatedly that he expects no quid pro quo for his money, just good government from people who think like he does on important issues of law and justice.

Feel better?

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