LINCOLN — The organization that successfully collected signatures for a voter referendum on Nebraska’s death penalty raised and spent more than $900,000 on its petition drive.
A group that opposes capital punishment, meanwhile, collected and spent about half as much to combat the petition drive.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty raised $261,000 from July 28 to Sept. 21, according to a report filed Monday with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The sum was on top of the $652,000 it had raised earlier.
The largest donors during the most recent reporting period were the Judicial Crisis Network and Robert Mercer, who gave $100,000 each.
The network also gave $200,000 in early July, making it the largest overall donor to the petition drive. The Washington, D.C.-based group describes itself as “dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice” with a commitment to limited government, the rule of law and a fair and impartial judiciary.
Mercer, a New York hedge fund manager with a $12.5 billion fortune, has frequently put his money to work for conservative causes.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who made a fortune as an executive with his family’s company, TD Ameritrade, earlier gave $200,000 and ranked as the largest individual donor. His father, Joe Ricketts, who started the company, earlier gave $100,000.
The pro-death penalty group raised $913,000 since the petition drive started in early June. It spent a little more than $903,000, leaving about $10,000 in cash on hand, according to Monday’s report.
The disclosure reports filed with the commission are the last until February 2016, said Frank Daley, the commission’s executive director.
Supporters of the death penalty want to overturn the Nebraska Legislature’s repeal of capital punishment by putting it to a vote of the people in 2016. In a monumental vote last spring, lawmakers abolished the death penalty over the governor’s veto.
The petition drive, launched days after the repeal vote, collected nearly 167,000 signatures. Although the verification process is still underway, it appears that enough signatures have been certified to put the repeal on hold until the vote takes place Nov. 8, 2016.
Supporters of the repeal have filed two lawsuits against the petition. One of the lawsuits seeks to invalidate the referendum because petition organizers did not list the governor as one of the sponsors.
The governor has said that while he strongly supports the petition drive to keep the death penalty, he was not one of the official sponsors.
The second lawsuit challenges the language that would appear on the ballot. If successful, the lawsuit would require a change in the ballot’s wording.
Organizers of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty have now shifted to raising funds to defend the petition drive from lawsuits, spokesman Chris Peterson said Monday.
The anti-death penalty group Nebraskans for Public Safety reported Monday that it had raised $462,000 to combat the petition drive. It spent $456,000.
During the most recent reporting period, the group raised $28,100. The largest recent donation was a $12,600 in-kind contribution of staff time from Equal Justice USA, a Brooklyn, New York, group that works to eliminate the death penalty.
The largest overall donation to Nebraskans for Public Safety was $400,000 from the Proteus Action League, an Amherst, Massachusetts, social justice organization. The league made its contribution in June.
Danielle Conrad, director of the ACLU of Nebraska who serves as spokeswoman for the anti-death penalty group, said Monday that the organization will continue to raise funds to persuade voters to support the repeal.