After the Nebraska legislature successfully abolished the death penalty in the state, an expensive battle has begun to bring it back. But so far, the side against the death penalty is winning the fundraising battle.
The money is all about the potential for a statewide vote on the death penalty.
In May, the state's conservative legislature narrowly overruled Republican Gov. Pete Rickett's veto of the measure that abolished the death penalty. Ricketts vowed there would be a referendum to give voters the option to bring it back. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty will need to collect 57,000 signatures by August to get the vote on the ballot. If they can manage to collect 114,000 signatures, the death penalty will remain on the books until voters weigh in.
The group estimates that it would need to spend about $900,000 to do so. So far, though, the group has been outraised by an organization opposing the death penalty referendum, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty raised $259,744 — and more than 75% of that came from the governor's family. Ricketts and his father, the founder of TD Ameritrade, have given $200,000 to the group.
Another $10,000 was given to the pro-death penalty organization by an Omaha police union.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has spent almost all of the money it has currently raised in starting the signature collecting process. The group has $26,000 in cash remaining, but has $25,000 in unpaid legal and consulting bills.
On the other side, Nebraskans for Public Safety (an anti-death penalty group) has not yet filed its full campaign finance report as of Tuesday evening. But the group has disclosed receiving a $400,000 contribution from a progressive organization called Proteus Action League. The group is a 501c(4), meaning it does not disclose its donors.
This isn't the first time Proteus Action League has spent money against the death penalty — the group spent more than $3.4 million on anti-death penalty efforts in 2012, according to an IRS filing.
The anti-death penalty group Nebraskans for Public Safety, which is affiliated with Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, has spent some of the money on television ads urging voters to not sign the petition.
Regardless of the outcome, Ricketts believes he will still be able to carry out the executions of the 10 men on death row. In pursuit of that, his Department of Correctional Services has spent more than $50,000 on execution drugs from a seller based in India.
Since the drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal government says it intends to detain the shipment when it arrives.
Chris McDaniel is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is C90B B2EF E872 EF22 4EDA DABB 50E6 F2BE 1164 FCAF
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