Candidates for the open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court filed pre-election campaign spending reports this week that show Barbara Webb, running a partisan race for the non-partisan seat, still leading Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch overall, though he reported a stronger recent fund-raising period than she did.
Webb raised $37,330 from Feb. 1 through Feb. 22, making the total for her campaign so far $201,034.
Welch raised $44,399 from Feb. 1 through Feb. 22, bringing his total for the campaign to $183,010.
Their individual spending has already been topped by the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Initiative, a dark money group that favors Republican and corporate clients. It relies on cash from wealthy individuals and corporations that funnel through a Washington PAC. It has reported a $225,000 war chest for Webb so far, but the number is expected to rise in financial reports filed post-election. Their ads have included a video featuring Webb. The group hasn’t explained how they arrange such videos without coordination with the candidate.
Major contributors to Webb include Republican financier Warren Stephens ($2,800) and billionaires Jim Walton and Lynn Walton ($2,800 each) and still more money from Republican-affiliated groups, as in her previous reports. She received $500 from Pulaski Republican Women, $2,800 from former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee’s PAC, $2,000 from the Saline County Republican Committee, $550 from the White County Republican Committee. She has contributions as well from several corporate PACs. Welch reported no PAC contributions.
In her December report, she noted more than $12,000 in contributions from PACs identified as Republican or operated for the benefit of Republicanss, such as Asa Hutchinson’s PAC and a PAC run by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s father.
The judicial ethics code says candidates, in addition to running without partisan affiliation, are prohibited from using partisan endorsements. Webb, the wife of Republican Chair Doyle Webb, has emphasized her partisan ties and used Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Mike Huckabee testimonials to her in her advertising. The belief is that this linkage is politically powerful in Republican-dominated Arkansas now, no matter how poorly it reflects on a candidate’s likelihood to be impartial.
The Arkansas Republican Party has also purchased advertising urging people to vote in the GOP primary, held concurrently with non-partisan judicial elections. There are few facs of interest on the Republican primary ballot. The idea seems to be to encourage people favorable to a Republican candidate to get to the polls on judicial election day. Should Webb be elected, it will be difficult to view her as impartial on issues important to Gov. Hutchinson and his party’s legislative leaders, several of whom have given her money.
Welch’s report notes contributions from several lawyers, but also an assortment of other contributors, such as $4,400 from Chip and Cindy Murphy of Little Rock. Several lawyers gave the maximum $2,800, including former Supreme Court Justice Paul Danielson of Booneville.