The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today took a thorough look at nursing home spending in judicial races, particularly by Fort Smith magnate Michael Morton, a subject we’ve been reporting about on the Arkansas Blog for months. Too bad they stopped at the Supreme Court, particularly on a day when they also featured the hot races for judgeships in Faulkner County.
In Supreme Court elections, the D-G added up a minimum of $159,000 in nursing home contributions, $113,000 of it from Morton, with lesser amounts from nursing home groups in Conway and Van Buren.
The runaway favorite of the nursing homes was Rhonda Wood, who essentially ran as a Republican for the non-partisan seat and scared away opposition. She gathered $72,000 in nursing home money of $154,000 raised by the D-G’s count (I found $76,000 when I counted and also found a contribution from a PAC largely funded by Morton. )She has returned some contributions since she drew no opponent.
I mention Wood’s partisan leaning because her partisan coloration and nursing home admirers are also the M.O. of a candidate for circuit court in Faulkner County, Doralee Chandler, who’s opposing H.G. Foster.
Through May, Chandler had raised $34,800. Of that $20,000 came from Michael Morton companies and $6,000 came from Conway nursing homes. She also picked up $1,000 from a Van Buren County Republican Committee, which fit with her activities working Republican meetings for support and also her “conservative” campaign slogan, which is meant to say “I rule for the Republican agenda.” I wouldn’t look for Doralee to do a Chris Piazza, in other words.
But check the bottom line: Chandler has raised 74 percent of her money from two nursing home chains.
You’d think this might be worth a mention in a newspaper roundup about races in a judicial district that’s home to Circuit Judge Mike Maggio. You’ll remember he was running for state Court of Appeals, his moneybags also full of contributions from Morton, until he was forced to quit the race as investigations began of his injudicious behavior on the Internet and of the stench that arose from timing of money funneled to him from nursing home magnate Morton about the time Maggio was reducing a $5.2 million verdict against a Morton nursing home to $1 million. Maggio is a “values” Republican candidate, too. He used to rant and rave on an LSU fan site, the aptly named Tiger Droppings, about welfare deadbeats. He’s now drawing $140,000 for doing nothing, having been suspended from the bench by the state Supreme Court.
Chandler isn’t the only candidate in Faulkner happy to pocket Morton loot. Incumbent Judge David Clark can trace $20,000 of the $67,000 he’s raised to Morton ($8,000) and Conway nursing home money ($12,000).
Troy Braswell, another circuit judge candidate from Conway, has pocketed $8,000 from Morton of $66,485 he’s raised. He also waves the Republican flag in campaign appearances.
I suspect a search of all the judgeships in the state would find further investments by the nursing home industry in “conservatives” like Doralee Chandler. But in Faulkner County, given recent events, you’d think people interested in the appearance of judicial probity might have said “thanks, but no thanks” this year.
Another angle in this — and another reason to note those like Wood, Chandler and Braswell who align with the Republican agenda — is the skunk in the Faulkner County woodpile, homeboy and former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker. He’s been identified as a link between nursing homes and candidates from legislature to Supreme Court. He’s been on the teat of dark money groups for years, working to elect Republican candidates and enrich himself at the same time. He’d managed to get UCA to subsidize his partisan politicking to the tune of more than $130,000 a year until the Maggio scandal blew up.
Talk about values.