The timing of the formation and funding of six political action committees, PACs, related to nursing homes operator Michael Morton that funded Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s campaign for a higher seat is still in question.
The PACs, formed with an initial and sole contribution from Morton’s entities made on July 8 of last year, the day Maggio ruled in favor of a defense motion to reduce Morton’s payout in a nursing home negligence case, have six officers in total and one sole agent, Little Rock lawyer Chris Stewart.
Officers are Sarah Drye, officer of Go Good Government PAC; Don Thomas, officer of Thomas Group In PAC and Taxpayers for Change PAC; Linda Leigh Flanagin, officer of Conservative Persons In PAC; Ancil Lea, officer of Citizens for Information Technology PAC; and Cheryl Loetscher, officer of Judicial Reform PAC.
Stewart is agent and officer on a seventh PAC, D. Bruce Hawkins 2 PAC, that contributed to Maggio, but that also contributed to other candidates.
Stewart could not be reached for comment this week, and the telephone service answering the phone at Stewart’s office said he would be out until March 31.
Drye, who is listed on Go Good Government PAC’s registration form as an employee of Stewart’s, was also unavailable until March 31 and did not return a message seeking comment left at the telephone number provided on the form.
Don Thomas, officer of Thomas Group In PAC and Taxpayers for Change PAC, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.
Thomas, who is the registered agent with the Secretary of State’s Office on six corporations out of Conway, is listed as retired.
Ancil Lea, officer of Citizens for Information Technology, could not be reached for comment.
Lea’s telephone number on the PAC registration is an out of service number that returns to the Log Cabin Democrat.
Lea is listed as self-employed.
Cheryl Loetscher, officer of Judicial Reform PAC, was also unable to be reached, with a fax number listed as her telephone number along with a nonexistent Conway address of 104 Tyler Plaza.
Her listed employer, The Thomas Group, is not registered with the Secretary of State’s office.
Linda Leigh Flanagin, officer of Conservative Persons In PAC, could not be reached for comment this week or last week at telephone numbers listed as hers on documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
Flanagin’s listed employer is LRM Consulting, which was until last week registered with the Secretary of State as incorporated by former senator Gilbert Baker, now executive assistant to President Tom Courtway at the University of Central Arkansas.
The business is now incorporated by James McAlister, and the registered agent is Chris Stewart.
Baker said Thursday he is a friend of Flanagin’s and can’t speak for her, but he could say that he did not ask Flanagin to approach Morton last July to see if he would support several candidates, "including Maggio."
Baker said Flanagin worked for LRM Consulting, which he started before he was hired at UCA, but that Flanagin did not approach Morton on his behalf or on behalf of his company.
Baker explained Flanagin would have been working on her own, and that she "has many irons in the fire" when it comes to fundraising.
"She could have solicited support for the PACs at that time, but it is my understanding she did not," Baker said, explaining it would be illegal to solicit campaign contributions to the judge race more than 180 days ahead of the election.
Flanagin’s LinedIn profile says she is in development at Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group that aims at "educating and mobilizing people of faith" to be "effective citizens" and supports evangelical causes.
The group’s website says Baker is the director, but he said Thursday he and Flanagin both have left the organization.
Faith and Freedom Coalition listed Baker as a past director on its 2012 tax exempt form.
Maggio has been under investigation by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for "general allegations" concerning his campaign contributions, and the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the nursing home negligence case has filed a complaint with the Arkansas Ethics Commission asking for an investigation specifically into the PACs, their officer Chris Stewart, Morton and any other individuals that "may be involved with any improper solicitation and/or contribution of judicial campaign funds" due to the timing of the PACs’ funding, the funding source, and the money’s eventual push to Maggio’s Court of Appeals race.
Maggio left the race amid another controversy about questionable comments he made on an LSU fan forum website that also prompted a JDDC investigation.
The Supreme Court, citing "recusal issues" has pulled Maggio’s docket, and his cases are going before Faulkner County Circuit Judge Ed Clawson.
A constitutional amendment called Issue 3 that will be put to voters in November would ban corporate contributions in campaigns and limit them to an individual, a political party or political action committee.
Political Action Committees are funded privately by individuals and corporations who wish to influence legislation or elect favorable candidates to office.
The House Joint Resolution is by Representative Warwick Sabin and Senator J. Woods and is subtitled "The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014."
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)