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Baker resigns from UCA; PAC officer comes forward to clear name

Posted: April 2, 2014 - 7:56pm

Former senator Gilbert Baker resigned his executive assistant position in the University of Central Arkansas administrative office Wednesday, the university announced in the morning before its Board of Trustees was to meet in an executive session at a scheduled retreat in Mountain View.

Asked Tuesday evening in a Freedom of Information Act request to state the specific purpose of Wednesday’s executive session, the university replied on Wednesday that the board would state the purpose to the public in attendance.

The board said the executive session was to be a discussion of personnel matters, and the board did not take any action in the session Wednesday.

It was assumed that Baker’s position at the university was to be discussed in the session based on confidential reports to the Log Cabin Democrat, however, Baker resigned before the session Wednesday.

At the retreat, UCA President Tom Courtway said Baker still has tenure status with the university.

Baker, who started at UCA as an instructor in the music department, was granted tenure as an assistant professor before he left the school in 2000 for the Arkansas State Senate. He returned to the school in an administrative position with tenure on Jan. 15 of last year.

Baker has appeared in recent media reports by the Log Cabin Democrat and others alongside officers of Political Action Committees that were formed with a nursing home defendant’s corporate donations that eventually funded Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s since abandoned campaign for Court of Appeals.

The PACs are in question because Maggio ruled in favor of a defense motion that reduced the nursing home defendant’s penalty to the family of a negligence victim from $5.2 million to $1 million the day the defendant’s corporations made contributions to the PACs.

The PAC officers — Little Rock lawyer Chris Stewart, former Justice of the Peace and local business owner Ancil Lea, Little Rock resident and former employee of Baker’s Linda Leigh Flanagin, local business owner and Baker’s former campaign manager Don Thomas, Stewart’s employee Sarah Drye, and Thomas’ employee Cheryl Loetscher — have been relatively quiet since their names were published in reports about the PACs and the committees’ contributions being used for Maggio’s campaign for a higher seat.

Contact information on the PAC registration forms appears to be incorrect for Loetscher and Lea, and other officers have not returned multiple telephone messages left at provided phone numbers, at their respective places of business or through emails seeking comment.

Thomas returned a telephone call, but he said he was not yet able to speak about the PACs.

Maggio’s campaign finances are under investigation by a judicial board, and the Arkansas Supreme Court has since stripped him of his court docket.

Maggio has not provided comment since any reports have been published about the PACs and contributions.

Baker has various associations with the PAC officers, particularly Flanagin, Stewart, Lea and Thomas, who were all part of the Arkansas chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group that supports evangelical and conservative political causes.

Baker said in an earlier interview that he and Flanagin, who was employed by his former LRM Consulting firm, have not been with Faith and Freedom since 2012.

Baker is listed on the group’s 990 tax exempt form as holding officer and executive director positions within the organization. He was a paid officer for three years in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Stewart was secretary in 2011 and 2012, and Lea was treasurer those years.

Flanagin was with the group in 2012 as a development officer. She was also a temporary office employee for the Arkansas State Senate during sessions when Baker was a senator.

Flanagin is registered as a lobbyist for a Conway-based environmental services company called Mannco, which is a business that was a client of Lea’s James Henry Company, according to a portfolio that has in the last week been removed from the James Henry Company website.

Stewart, whose office’s answering service said he would be out until April 7 after stating last week he would be out until March 31, is the registered agent on LRM Consulting. The consulting firm officer and incorporator was Baker until it was recently changed over to James McAlister.

McAlister is listed in Baker’s past campaign documents as campaign treasurer and was a paid campaign worker in 2008.

Stewart, his law firm and a woman who shares his same listed address donated $2,000 each to Maggio’s Court of Appeals campaign, according to Maggio’s January campaign contribution report filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Thomas, who was Baker’s campaign consultant in 2008, appeared in a state newspaper article Wednesday as saying he did not know he had been listed as a PAC officer in the PACs that contributed to Maggio’s campaign.

The PAC Thomas appears on is Thomas Group In PAC.

Another listed PAC officer, Loetscher, spoke with the Log Cabin Democrat Wednesday just after Baker’s resignation was announced by UCA, with the request that her name be cleared of association with the PACs and the committees’ funding of Maggio’s campaign.

Loetscher said she had no idea she was listed as a PAC officer with the Secretary of State’s office until a friend told her she was listed among other officers appearing in a previous Log Cabin Democrat article about an investigation into Maggio’s campaign finances, which she said came as a shock.

Loetscher is an employee of Thomas, working as an account and investment office manager for a family trust Thomas maintains.

She works out of an office in the same suite as baker’s office at the corner of Hogan Lane and Tyler Street.

Baker’s name appears on the front of the suite, but Loetscher says her office where she works for Thomas is not associated with Baker’s.

Nor do the two offices collaborate on political matters, she said.

She explained she is a registered voter and exercises her right to that extent and does not participate in political giving, fundraisers or organizations.

“This was a shock and a disappointment,” she said, adding that she would like to know who gave her name to Stewart, the Little Rock lawyer who is the registered agent on all of the PACs in question.

She said she does not know Stewart and never gave anyone permission to use her name on a PAC, and she was not contacted as the PAC she is officer of, Judicial Reform PAC, made its contribution to Maggio.

She said she wants her name removed from the PAC documents, which are registered with the Secretary of State’s office by Stewart, who signed an affidavit stating all information included is “true and correct.”

Loetscher’s contact information on the registration form lists a nonexistent address of 104 Tyler Plaza and a fax number as her telephone number.

She said her place of employment is not The Thomas Group, as it is listed on the form.

Loetscher sent two letters Tuesday to Maggio and Stewart, informing them that she never gave permission or was asked to be a part of the PAC.

The letter to Stewart states that after reading articles in the Log Cabin Democrat about her status as the PAC’s officer, she demands that she be immediately removed from any or all PACs “you may have initiated and/or registered with the AR Secretary of State’s Office,” and further states, “..And you are never to use my name again for any PAC now or in the future.”

The letter to Maggio explains also that her inclusion was not her will and asks that Maggio provide her with copies of the checks that his campaign received on behalf of the PAC she is included in as officer, “as I am determined to get to the bottom of how this took place with my name being used falsely and inappropriately.”

“A poor lady in Greenbrier nursing home had to die, or I’d never have known,” Loetscher said Wednesday referring to Martha Bull, whose family represented her estate in the negligence case against nursing homes owner Michael Morton of Fort Smith Maggio presided over last year.

Morton’s corporations are the sources of the PAC funding.

Loetscher said she wanted to add that she has nothing to hide and spoke out in an effort to ensure her family’s name was not associated with the committees in question, their formation or the contributions the PACs made to Maggio.

“It’s sad when Christian politicians try to have a biblical viewpoint for their political behavior and then give a bad rap to the ones who want to better their communities,” Loetscher said.

She wanted it included that chapter 3, verses 22 through 25 in the Bible’s book of Colossians should set an example for elected officials and politicians.

“When I was pulled into this I knew I had to come forward and tell the truth,” she said.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net 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)

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