Arkansans for Transparency, a ballot issue group formed to fight two proposed constitutional amendments to improve political practices in Arkansas, filed its first financial report today and it shows that Republican money is powering the effort, as expected. It reported contributions of $206,000 and has spent more than $30,000, including with the consulting firm staffed by Governor Hutchinson’s former staffers, Gilmore Strategies, and legal fees with the Friday Firm to fight the ballot measures in court, where appeals are pending of the Republican secretary of state’s rejection of the measures.
The proposals the group is fighting would create a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative districts (now controlled by Republicans for both state and federal legislative districts) and to end partisan primaries for state office elections. Instead, all candidates would run in a primary and a general election runoff would be decided by ranked-choice voting.
Republican criticism of the measures have included the fact that the two ballot measures are supported by a progressive nonprofit in Texas, though signatures of Arkansas registered voters put the measures on the ballot; polls show strong support in Arkansas for both, and leaders of the campaigns are from Arkansas, including the League of Women Voters. The groups working for the measures are Arkansas Voters First, which in its July report showed $3.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions, with more than $1 million already spent on the canvassing effort for signatures on the districting measure, and Open Primaries Arkansas, which hasn’t filed its first financial disclosure.
The so-called Transparency group also got money from outside Arkansas. And the money from the Republican Party of Arkansas isn’t exactly transparent except as to drawing from a party fund from many donors. The same for Tom Cotton money, heavily derived from national special interests. Fiori Joint Revocable Trust appears linked to Sam Fiori, CEO of a company that operates Taco Bell and KFC franchises. Lawco Holdings is one of the corporate entities organized by Randy Lawson, a Bentonville oil and gas man.
The committee is chaired by Republican activist Jonelle Fulmer of Fort Smith and Joseph Wood, the Republican county judge of Washington County.