NON-PARTISAN?: Not exactly.

Barbara Webb of Benton, who’s running against Judge Chip Welch of Little Rock for retiring Justice Jo Hart’s seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, has filed her first campaign financial statement.

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In November, she reported raising $29,350.

Big contributors: $2,800 (the maximum) each from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated Associated Industries of Arkansas. These are big business lobbies. They want obstacles to civil lawsuits and any other favors possible from the Supreme Court to hold down business costs.

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There’s $2,800 from her husband Doyle, chairman of the state Republican Party. There will be GOP fingerprints all over this nominally non-partisan race. Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s picture and praise of Webb appear on a flyer she’s already publicized. Past court candidates such as Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack have played up Republican ties by visiting GOP committee meetings and other means, including Wood’s use of robocalls by former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Webb also picked up $2,800 from Don Curdie, a federal disability law judge; $2,500 in total from Larry Walther and Janice Walther (he’s Asa’s DFA director), and $2,800 from Lisenne Rockefeller, widow of the former Republican lieutenant governor. Webb reports personally loaning $4,600 to the campaign.

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Welch, who announced first, filed reports for both October and November. So far, he’s raised $58,920.  His contributions have come almost exclusively from lawyers, in smaller contributions, most often $250. Lawyer Brian Reddick gave $2,800. Welch also got $2,800 from his brother-in-law Tim Taylor, who works for UAMS. (The report erroneously listed an incorrect employer that I’d used originally.)

Welch’s exploratory committee, which raised about $12,000 toward his total, received maximum contributions of $2,800 from Doyle Rogers of Batesville and Carolyn Rogers of Little Rock.

If past elections are a guide, the candidates’ money, particularly on Webb’s side, will be dwarfed by dark money. The Republican State Leadership Committee’s judicial initiative spent $2.6 million trying to defeat Justice Courtney Hudson in the last contested race for Supreme Court. It has not filed reports yet for the 2020 judicial cycle, but typically comes in later. And there are already hints it’s planning to play again in this race.

PS: A reader notes that commentary for the rules of judicial conduct say a judicial candidate should not use an endorsement from a partisan elected official. The question here is whether, as a matter of interpreting the rule, that the quote of praise from the Republican governor is an “endorsement.” The flyer quotes the statement Hutchinson made in a news release when he appointed Webb to fill a temporary vacancy in a judgeship in Saline County. Functionally, of course, a picture of the governor with a glowing remark LOOKS an awful lot like an endorsement. Which is of course the intention of this Republican campaign for a non-partisan judgeship. Don’t look for high ethical standards from the Webb campaign, not with Doyle in the background.

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