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About $1M given in race for Little Rock mayor

Bulk of money raised goes to 3 hopefuls for open post by Rachel Herzog | November 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Little Rock mayor candidates, from left: Baker Kurrus, Warwick Sabin, Glen Schwarz, Frank Scott and Vincent Tolliver.

With the most competitive election for Little Rock mayor in at least a decade a day away, five candidates have netted close to $1 million among them in campaign contributions from all over the city.

Campaign finance reports submitted to the Pulaski County clerk's office last week show state Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, leading the field in fundraising, having received $357,178.25 since June. That figure includes a transfer of $187,611.57 from Sabin's exploratory committee, which was formed in July 2017.

Attorney and business consultant Baker Kurrus reported that he raised $324,999 since June. Banker and associate pastor Frank Scott Jr. reported raising $229,893.14 since July 1, which includes a transfer of $64,993.80 from his exploratory committee, which he formed in September 2017.

Sabin, 42, and Scott, 34, said exploratory committees helped them get their names and messages out earlier. A city ordinance prevents candidates from raising money until June 1 before a November election, though a judge ruled earlier this year that exploratory committees can collect money to later be given to a candidate.

"I think it was helpful and I also think it was necessary because of the arcane laws that the city put in place to advantage the incumbents," Sabin said, "and in order to have a level playing field, I needed to be able to compete effectively."

[MORE DETAILS: Read the campaign finance reports]

Between the exploratory committee and the campaign, the total raised for Sabin was $426,790.68, according to his campaign's treasurer, Cale Turner. Scott said his campaign raised a total of about $370,000, counting contributions to his exploratory committee.

Kurrus, 64, first publicly expressed interest in the position in May, after current Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced he would not seek a fourth term for personal reasons. Kurrus said he followed the city ordinance.

"We didn't raise any money till June 1, but when we got started we worked at it really hard and raised more money than anybody else," Kurrus said. "I'm particularly excited about the broad base of support -- it's businesses, it's teachers, it's friends, it's people from just all over the place, all over town."

Kurrus received 24 donations of $2,700, the maximum amount from an individual or political action committee allowed by state law.

All but one of those donors listed Little Rock addresses and included attorneys, developers, business owners and retirees. Among them were John Flake, chairman of real estate firm Flake & Kelley Commercial; businessman Sam Vogel; developer Lou Schickel; and Little Rock School District advisory board member Melanie Fox.

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

Kurrus said some of his donors reflect friends from his own career history in real estate law and business. He added that he believed his biggest chunk of support came from donations of various sizes from longtime friends in his Sunday school class.

Kurrus also received two separate contributions totaling $600 from Phillip Wyrick, a former state legislator and the husband of Ward 7 City Director B.J. Wyrick. He also received $1,000 from At-large City Director Dean Kumpuris. Ward 4 City Director Capi Peck, who owns Trio's restaurant, made $2,650 in non-monetary contributions to Kurrus' campaign.

He said the support from current city leadership likely meant that those directors wanted to work with him on policy-making, which Kurrus said he has the know-how to do.

Scott received nine contributions of $2,700. Five of those came from family members of the late Republican Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, including his son, Will Rockefeller, who is vice president of Winrock Farms.

Scott said he received contributions from people he knew in the business community and from people he met while working for former Gov. Mike Beebe, but he believed he got financial support from every ZIP code in Little Rock.

Sabin received three contributions of $2,700. One came from Robert Shaye, a Hollywood filmmaker whose producing credits include The Lord of the Rings and A Nightmare on Elm Street series. Shaye's wife contributed $2,300.

The other two $2,700 contributions to Sabin came from political action committees affiliated with trade workers' organizations, the Southern States Millwright Regional Council Arkansas PAC and the Carpenters Legislative Improvement Committee.

Sabin said he believed he received mostly smaller contributions from a diverse cross-section of the city, which he said signals a broad base of support.

Those three candidates also received donations from two Little Rock political action committees.

Kurrus and Scott each received contributions of $2,700 from the Arkansas Realtors Political Action Committee, a group that critics have said fights fair landlord-tenant legislation.

Scott said he was grateful for anyone who wanted to invest in his campaign. He said he strongly supports renters' rights and had been vocal about his goal to unify the city at candidate forums hosted by and attended by members of the Arkansas Realtors Association.

"I've received many different checks from many different people, and we don't always agree on every policy issue," Scott said.

Kurrus said all the candidates "probably took money from where they could find it."

"I haven't focused on where the money came from -- I've just tried to raise enough to run a credible campaign," he said.

Kurrus and Sabin each received $1,000 from Progress PAC, which lists Buckley O'Mell, vice president of advocacy at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, as its resident agent. Those two candidates said they believed members of the chamber met with them as well as Scott and chose to donate the same amount of money to each of those three candidates.

Sabin, who has been openly critical of the $300,000 the city contributes to the chamber each year and called for more transparency, said he had shared those views with chamber members. Kurrus said the chamber members likely found multiple candidates to be qualified.

Scott's report did not list a contribution from Progress PAC. He said he recalled speaking with chamber members but did not know if the affiliated political action committee had donated, though he said he could have received a check from it that had not been deposited at the time he submitted his campaign finance report last week.

Writer and activist Vincent Tolliver, 51, said he submitted his report Wednesday, after the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline, but it could not be accessed on the Pulaski County clerk's website Friday evening. A photo that Tolliver provided of the first page of his report shows that he raised $4,075 and spent $3,819.10.

Tolliver said he was "disgusted" by the amount of money in political campaigns, and what he did raise went toward yard signs and campaign materials.

"We intentionally did not go after dollars. We went after people, and we were successful," he said.

Marijuana activist Glen Schwarz, 64, reported expenditures of $6 through Sept. 20 and told a Democrat-Gazette reporter on Tuesday that he had spent an overall total of $25, with no contributions to report. Candidates who spend less than $500 are not required to file finance reports. Schwarz has said he believes that money doesn't buy votes.

Little Rock's mayor is elected to a four-year term and receives an annual salary of $160,000. Early voting is underway, and the election is Tuesday.

Metro on 11/05/2018

Print Headline: About $1M given in race for Little Rock mayor


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