Baker’s ex-consultant: PAC bearing his name news to him

CONWAY - A man for whom one of the eight political action committees figuring in an investigation of Circuit Judge Michael Maggio is named has denied knowing anything about the PACs.

Don Thomas of Conway was asked about the PACs, one of which is named Thomas Group In PAC and lists him as an officer.

Another committee, the Taxpayers for Change PAC, also lists Thomas as an officer.

Thomas is a former paid political consultant to former state Sen. Gilbert Baker, a Conway Republican who has an office near Thomas’ office in Conway’s Tyler Plaza.

“I have no idea … what you’re talking about,” Thomas said when asked about the committees. “I really don’t know anything about it.”

Baker said in a recent interview that it was a coincidence that Thomas’ office for The Thomas Group is in the same suite at 1475 Hogan Lane in Conway and just across a small hallway from Baker’s longtime office. Since Baker and Thomas were first interviewed, a worn paper sign bearing The Thomas Group name has been removed from Thomas’ office door.

Neither Baker, who now is a University of Central Arkansas administrator, nor Thomas would comment further Tuesday.

The Little Rock lawyer who created the eight political action committees also is the registered agent for a consulting company that Baker started and for the Baker-established Arkansas affiliate of the national Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Lawyer Chris Stewart formed the PACs, which accepted thousands of dollars from nursing home-tycoon Michael Morton and his businesses on July 8. That same day, Maggio heard a plea from a Morton-owned Greenbrier nursing home to lower a Faulkner County jury’s $5.2 million judgment against it.

Three days later, Maggio, who has since halted his campaign for the Arkansas Court of Appeals, reduced the judgment to $1 million against Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Months later, after judges could legally accept financial contributions, seven of the PACs began donating to Maggio’s campaign, six of them almost exclusively.

None of the PACs was registered when they began accepting contributions.

The Arkansas Ethics Commission and the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission are investigating allegations regarding Maggio and the PAC contributions he received. The state Supreme Courthas stripped him of all of his cases pending further notification.

Morton told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last month that a woman who worked with Baker, Linda Leigh Flanagin, asked him to support Maggio’s campaign while Maggio was presiding over the lawsuit filed in the death of nursing-home patient Martha Bull, 76.

Baker has said previously that he did not know about the conversation between Morton and Flanagin and “did not tell her to do that or instruct her to do that.”

Baker would not say Tuesday whether he asked Stewart to form any of the PACs, whether he asked anyone to be an officer for them or whether he has talked to Morton since the contention arose surrounding Maggio and the PACs.

Asked specific questions in an email Tuesday, Baker replied, “I have no additional comment.”

Morton said recently that he and Baker have talked about the Maggio contention but that it was just one topic of their conversation. Morton said he would “rather not” discuss the nature of that conversation. He said he had not talked with Flanagin in that time.

“I talk to Mr. Baker quite often,” Morton said.

Stewart has declined to say who asked him to create the PACs because he said it was “privileged” information.

Stewart’s business, the Stewart Law Firm, also is the registered agent named on the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 2010 corporation filing with the state. That filing lists Stewart and Thomas as two of the organization’s principals and directors. The document says Baker is the incorporator/organizer.

Secretary of state records show that Stewart also is the registered agent for LRM Consulting Inc., the political consulting company Baker has said he formed in 2012 and hired Flanagin as its only employee. Flanagin is an officer on registration forms for one of the eight committees, the Conservative Persons In PAC.

Flanagin has not returned repeated phone messages seeking comment.

LRM Consulting’s address is given as 1401 W. Capitol Ave., Suite 247, in Little Rock on a series of contributions it reported making to candidates for this year’s elections, according to state records. That is also the address given for Baker’s office on a $100 contribution he made in November to Cabot Republican Tim Lemons, a state House candidate.

Also sharing that address on state records is the Capital Advisory Group, a lobbying organization that lists Republican activists Bill Vickery and Mitchell Lowe as its “authorized personnel.”

Vickery did not return phone messages seeking comment.

In an email Tuesday, Stewart declined to comment further.

“Please understand that because I am an attorney who represents clients involved in this situation, as well as the fact that there is now an Ethics Commission investigation, I have no choice but to respectfully decline to answer any questions or make any comments to the press,” Stewart wrote.

Thomas is the only person whose name appears on one of the PAC registration forms who has commented publicly other than Stewart.

Others whose typed names appear on the PAC registration forms:

Cheryl Loechter is an officer on the Judicial Reform PAC registration forms, which say she works for The Thomas Group at Tyler Plaza. The phone number given for that office is a fax number. A phone message left at the only Loechter listing available in Conway was not returned.

Ancil Lea, a former Faulkner County justice of the peace, is an officer on the Citizens for Information Technology PAC. He did not return a call to his cellphone or a message seeking comment Tuesday. The phone number given for him on the PAC’s registration form is disconnected.

Lea, a Conway Republican, is the owner of James Henry Inc., according to a 2007 filing with the state. The portfolio on that company’s website includes a slide show featuring, among others, Baker, in pictures from his unsuccessful campaign in 2012 for the U.S. Senate; and Rhonda Wood, an Arkansas Court of Appeals judge from Conway who has Morton’s support in her unopposed campaign for the state Supreme Court. The website also features Mannco Environmental Services Inc., a Conway company for which Flanagin registered as a lobbyist this year.

Sarah Drye is an officer on the Go Good Government PAC. Its registration form lists her as an employee of the Stewart Law Firm. She did not return a phone message left at the law firm. The law firm is in Little Rock, but the registration form gives a phone number with an 870 area code. No one returned a message left at the 870 number.

Steve Goode, a Faulkner County justice of the peace, is an officer on the Red Arkansas PAC. The number listed for Goode, a Vilonia Republican, is also an 870 number and is disconnected. Goode said in a text message Tuesday that he would return a phone call seeking comment later in the day, but he did not.

No officers other than Stewart are listed on the D. Bruce Hawkins 2 PAC. Hawkins, a Democratic lobbyist from Morrilton, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

According to a 2013 Democrat-Gazette article, Hawkins’ DBH Management Consultants’ lobbyist registration listed 25 clients, among them Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform. That group was unsuccessful in persuading lawmakers to refer a proposed constitutional amendment in the 2014 general election that would have overhauled the state’s tort laws.

Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform is a nonprofit organization that registered with the secretary of state’s office in October 2011 and listed lobbyist Marvin Parks, a former state legislator from Greenbrier, as its incorporator and organizer, according to the 2013 article. Stewart also was this group’s attorney.

None of the PAC registration forms at issue bears the signature of anyone other than Stewart and the people who notarized them.

Alex Reed, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the person who files the form is the one who must sign it. If that person files it online, he said, the person is to fill out a notarized signature card.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 04/02/2014

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