Former state Sen. Gilbert Baker has resigned effective today as UCA lobbyist and executive assistant. The move comes after weeks of reporting on Baker’s role as Republican fundraiser by the Arkansas Blog, Blue Hog Report and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Baker had especially been in the spotlight for his role in a string of PACs that contributed money to Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, who recently had his caseload strippped by the Arkansas Supreme Court following a series of ethics complaints.
Attention has focused on contributions made by nursing home owner Michael Morton of Fort Smith to seven PACs that contributed almost exclusively to Maggio. Morton made his contributions on July 8, 2013, the same day Maggio held a hearing on a $5 million verdict against a Fort Smith nursing home owned by Morton. A few days later, Maggio reduced the verdict by $4 million.
Chris Stewart, a Little Rock attorney who served on the board of the Arkansas branch of the Faith and Freedom Coalition with Baker, set up all seven PACs. He’s refused to say who asked him to them up. Morton told Debra Hale-Shelton that he doesn’t know Stewart, but talks to Baker frequently. Morton told Hale-Shelton that Linda Leigh Flanagin, a political consultant working for Baker, asked him to contribute to the PACs. Baker has said that he didn’t ask Flanagin to contact Morton.
Baker’s resignation this morning follows a new report by Hale-Shelton in which a man whose name figures into one of PACs created by Stewart said he didn’t know anything about it. Don Thomas, who according to tax documents was treasurer of the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2012, is named as an officer in the Thomas Group In Pac and Taxpayers for Change PAC. Baker told the ADG that it was a coincidence that Thomas’ office for the Thomas Group was in the same suite as Baker’s longtime office.