Groups campaigning for or against various proposals that are intended for the Nov. 3 general election ballot this week disclosed their June fundraising efforts to the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
All together, ballot question committees reported raising nearly $2 million last month, though the fate of several measures remains uncertain because of administrative rulings and legal challenges.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Thurston ruled that three citizen-initiated efforts -- one to form an independent citizens redistricting committee, another to move Arkansas to open primaries and a third to expand casino gambling -- all failed to obtain the required background checks for their canvassers, thus invalidating the petitions that the groups submitted earlier this month.
The ruling prompted the groups supporting those measures to threaten a legal challenge to have their signatures counted.
A pair of elections-related constitutional amendments drafted by initiative-guru David Couch is supported by committees that reported their finances separately this week.
Arkansas Voters First was formed to support the creation of an independent commission that would redraw the boundaries for the state's legislative and congressional districts every 10 years.
The committee reportedly raised more than $1.5 million last month and spent $906,180, most of it going toward the collection of signatures. The group also reported nearly $500,000 in in-kind contributions from two firms, the Campaign Legal Center and RepresntUS, for legal and website services.
Arkansas Voters First ended the month with about $1.9 million available to spend. In total, the group has raised $3.3 million and spent nearly $1.4 million.
The group's main contributor was the Action Now Initiative, a political organization founded by Laura and John Arnold of Texas. The Action Now Initiative donated $1.5 million to Arkansas Voters First in June, on top of $1.8 million in earlier contributions.
Another Couch initiative, a constitutional amendment that would move the statewide elections to a system of open primaries, followed by ranked-choice voting in the general election, is being backed by the committee Open Primaries Arkansas.
The committee, which was established in June, did not report raising or spending any money in its first month of operation. The group reported $3,111 in in-kind contributions from the RepresntUS Education Fund for volunteer time and digital analytics.
Stephanie Matthews, a spokeswoman for Open Primaries Arkansas, said canvassers hired by Arkansas Voters First collected signatures for both the redistricting and open primaries proposal.
Opposing both measures is the Arkansans for Transparency Committee, formed by several GOP activists earlier this month.
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the group, said it will file its first financial report in August.
Arkansas Wins 2020, a group formed earlier this year to support the proposed expansion of casino gambling in more than a dozen counties, reported raising $750,000 in June and spending $617,929, according to a report filed with the Ethics Commission.
The group ended the month with $252,020 available to spend. In total, it has raised $900,000 and spent $647,929.
All of the group's funding has come from RCJ Global Properties, a company that lists the same address as Champions Word Resort in Kissimmee, Fla.
In June, Arkansas Wins spent $484,826 with two separate firms that provided consulting services and signature-gathering, according to the group's report.
Opposing the casino-expansion measure is a coalition of the state's current casino operators -- Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Delaware North and the Saracen Development Authority -- which together have funded the Protect Arkansas Communities committee.
That committee raised $39,289 in June, all of it from Delaware North, the operator of Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis. The committee also spent $39,289, most of it on canvassing.
Protect Arkansas Communities ended the month with $1,000 cash on hand. In total, it has raised $439,496 and spent $438,496.
Safe Surgery Arkansas, a group formed to try and get voters to repeal Act 579 of 2019, a law allowing optometrists to perform certain eye procedures typically performed by ophthalmologists, reported raising $290,594 in June.
Many of the group's individual donors listed their occupation as ophthalmologists or eye surgeons. The Arkansas Medical Society gave $80,000 last month, the group's largest single donation. The Medical Society's donations total $330,000.
Safe Surgery Arkansas reported spending $241,563 last month, most of it on advertising and legal fees.
At the end of the month, Safe Surgery Arkansas reported having $286,180 cash on hand. In total, the group has raised nearly $1.7 million and spent $1.4 million.
The committee is involved in a lawsuit filed by supporters of the eye-care law. Earlier this week, a special master of the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a report that said some paid canvassers for the Safe Surgery Arkansas ballot committee weren’t certified as passing criminal background checks, invalidating the 51,911 signatures they collected on the petitions they circulated for a referendum on Act 579 of 2019. The Supreme Court justices have yet to make a ruling based on the special master's report.
The group supporting the lawsuit, Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, reported raising $270,335 last month and spending $81,587. The group ended the month with $223,604 available to spend.
In total, Arkansans for Healthy Eyes has raised $661,266 and spent $457,681.
Most of Arkansans for Healthy Eyes' fundraising last month came via contributions from optometrists and the Arkansas Optometric Association, which gave $65,000 last month on top of $65,000 in earlier contributions.
The group spent most of its money last month on legal fees.
The Committee to Protect the Arkansas Constitution was formed last month to support Issue 3, a proposed constitutional amendment put forward by lawmakers that would make it harder for citizens and the state Legislature to get additional constitutional amendments qualified for the ballot.
In its first month of operation, the group reported raising $9,000 from the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. The group did not report any spending and ended the month with $9,000 cash on hand.
No committees have registered to oppose Issue 3.
A committee formed to support Issue 1, a proposed permanent extension of the half-cent sales tax to fund highway construction and maintenance, reported having more than $1.4 million in the bank for its fall campaign.
The Vote for Roads, Vote for Issue 1 committee did not report raising any money in June, and the committee spent only $11,074, mostly to a campaign management firm. To date, the group has raised more than $1.6 million and spent $157,413.
No group has formed yet to oppose the issue.
CORRECTION: A special master of the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a report that said some paid canvassers for the Safe Surgery Arkansas ballot committee weren’t certified as passing criminal background checks, invalidating the 51,911 signatures they collected on the petitions they circulated for a referendum on Act 579 of 2019. An earlier version of this article incorrectly described what the special master said.