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Two and a half years ago, Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson kicked off her unsuccessful bid for chief justice with a $100,000 loan to her campaign war chest and donations from well over 150 people.

Fast forward to last month, the first in her 2018 campaign for re-election, and Goodson reported raising $15,740 -- from just 10 individuals -- which slightly surpassed her closest challenger, Department of Human Services attorney David Sterling.

A third candidate for the state's highest court, Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, said Friday that he had not raised any money in February, after entering the race at the last minute. He filed Feb. 28.

Thursday was the deadline for candidates to file their campaign finance reports for February. All three Supreme Court candidates officially kicked off their campaigns last month.

Candidates for two Court of Appeals races also filed campaign finance reports for last month.

Judicial elections, including the chief justice race, were already in their final stretch in February 2016, when the nonpartisan races coincided with an earlier-than-usual March 1 party primary in the presidential election year. Goodson filed her first report in October of the previous year.

This year, the judicial general and primary nominating elections will be held May 22, so there's still several months for candidates to amass their war chests.

Other outside interest groups -- called "dark money" spenders because they do not disclose their donors, as candidates have to do -- have yet to be a factor in the race. In previous election years, they spent large sums on ads in Supreme Court contests.

On Friday, Sterling said he had $24,188 in cash available -- the most in the race -- after raising $15,219 from donors and an additional $21,297 in loans, and spending $12,328, mostly on filing fees.

Goodson's campaign also reported that almost all of the $10,213 spent in February was for filing fees. She did not report any loans and had $5,526 cash available.

By the end of Goodson's 2016 chief justice campaign, she had reported raising more than $1 million from donors and loans, more than double that of the winner, current Chief Justice Dan Kemp. Kemp, however, was aided by attack ads aimed at Goodson by the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative Washington, D.C., group that does not disclose its donors.

Because Goodson already held a spot on the high court -- Position 3 -- she remained a justice after the 2016 election. Terms are for eight years.

Both Hixson and Sterling said Friday that they were unaware of any out-of-state groups planning to become involved in the race. (Judicial rules prohibit coordinating with groups that spend money to influence judicial campaigns.)

Keith Emis, Goodson's campaign consultant, said he did not envision the justice supporting outside dark money being spent on the race.

"I expect we'll have all the money we need to run an effective campaign," he said.

The Judicial Crisis Network did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

"My hope is this is an Arkansas race, with Arkansas people and Arkansas money," Hixson said Friday.

Only Goodson's reports were available for public inspection online Friday, and they show her initial donors were made up primarily of lawyers, including several with connections to her husband, Texarkana trial attorney John Goodson.

Her prominent donors include Sheffield Nelson, a two-time Republican candidate for governor. Nelson is a member of the University of Arkansas System board of trustees, along with John Goodson. Other donors included Sam Hilburn, an attorney and former board member, and Jeff Rosenzweig, a criminal defense attorney known for his work on death penalty cases.

Hixson, an appellate judge since 2013, said he wasn't required to file a report because he "had not received a penny, or spent a penny."

Sterling, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for attorney general in 2014, said his campaign had difficulties filing its report with the secretary of state's office. This is the first year all candidates are required to file their reports electronically. (Sterling provided his fundraising totals in a phone interview.)

"There were several candidates that were having issues in addition to him," Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office said Friday. Powell said he didn't know what the cause of the trouble was.

COURT OF APPEALS

In Court of Appeals District 2, which includes 18 counties in north-central Arkansas, incumbent Judge Bart Virden reported having $464 available at the end of February after raising $8,700 in loans and donations, and spending $8,236 over the course of his campaign. His opponent, Johnnie Copeland, reported that he did not receive any donations, but lent his campaign $10,000, spent $8,305, and ended the month with $1,694 available.

In Court of Appeals District 3, which includes Northwest Arkansas, incumbent Judge Robert Gladwin is running for re-election without an opponent. He reported spending $8,236 (the campaign filing fee), raising $3,286 in loans and donations, and having a campaign debt of $3,200.

Metro on 03/18/2018

Print Headline: Judicial candidates report on war chests

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