The latest campaign reports add a wrinkle to the perplexing race pitting Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne against a little-known trial lawyer, Tim Cullen. Nursing home money, particularly from the infamous Michael Morton of Fort Smith, has flooded into the Cullen race.
Of the $82,000 he reported, $40,000 came from Michael Morton, the Fort Smith nursing home magnate, and corporate entities of his vast holdings. (AGAIN: Something needs to be done about this enormous loophole in Arkansas campaign finance law that makes a mockery of the $2,000 limit placed on ordinary citizens.) Another $6,000 came from a Conway nursing home outfit.
This is the same money that flowed into the campaigns, of among others, Supreme Court candidate Rhonda Wood, and circuit court candidates Troy Braswell, David Clark, Doralee Chandler, and particularly Mike Maggio. Maggio, once a court of appeals candidate, is now on paid leave for a variety of ethical probes, including whether a flood of smelly PAC money originating in Morton’s pocket was timed to influence his decision in reducing by more than $4 million a verdict against one of his nursing homes.
Cullen has now raised $116,000, well more than Wnne’s $93,000. Wynne raised only $13,000 in the latest period, including $4,000 from Walton heirs, $1,000 from John Tyson and $300 from the AFL-CIO.
You could say Morton was hedging his bet here, but not exactly. Various of his entities gave Wynne $8,000 earlier in the campaign, chump change for Morton in the tens of thousands he’s salted into judicial races around the state to get the kind of justice he desires for nursing home.
Cullen, you’ll recall, is being attacked by a shadowy (shady?) 501C4 group out of Virginia as friendly to child pornography for using the phrase “victimless crime” in seeking a sentence reduction for a man trapped in a sting by a cop posing as a minor and also found in possession of child pornography. The ad buy is in the $400,000 range by Cullen camp estimates. It’s underhanded stuff (everyone is entitled to a defense, for one thing). The lack of transparency is another mockery of campaign finance law. But Wynne disavows connection with it and, at this point, I tend to believe him.
But what IS going on here? Wynne’s unremarkable mainstream record as a small-town lawyer and middle level appellate judge offers no clue why this PAC — which generally works on the side of corporate interests — is so hellbent on defeating Cullen. Or how they even knew about him in the first place. But I’ve said before that the support of a group like the Law Enforcement Alliance of America has to give you some pause. May I now say relative to the mass infusion of cash from nursing home operator Michael Morton — ditto.
Here’s one more tell: Mountaire Corp. gave Cullen $2,000. That’s the poultry outfit owned by the wealthy Ron Cameron, a major moneybags for conservative business causes and a key contributor to the billionaire Koch brothers’ political activities. Do you really want to join hands with a guy who contributed to the Sarah Palin PAC?
I’m still scratching my head about this race, as are a number of lawyers of my acquaintance who fall all along the spectrum of practice from plaintiff to defense. Some trial lawyers with decided liberal tendencies are in Wynne’s camp, a factor that tends to discourage my belief that he’s an expected toady for the chamber of commerce.
Alas, in this race, we are not going to know the real story until it’s too late. Judges can’t talk about anything meaningful in their races. You’re left to read tea leaves through campaign contributions and anonymously sourced attack ads. Then you get to read the winner’s opinions.
PS — Debbie Pelley, battalion commander of the Black Helicopter Squadron in Jonesboro, is distributing e-mail in support of Cullen. Dan Greenberg has written disapprovingly of ads against Cullen. Hmmm. On the other hand, Rep. Justin Harris, chair of the legislature’s Crackpot Caucus, has endorsed Wynne.