LINCOLN–Two major committees representing opposing sides of the death penalty referendum on the November ballot reported six-figure contributions in campaign finance statements filed this week.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty Inc. reported $277,655 in total campaign contributions, and the group has spent $159,118 of those funds.
Nebraskans for Public Safety, the group leading the push to retain the Legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty, reported having received $124,930 in campaign contributions, while spending a total of $138,010.
The most recent campaign filings, however, do not reflect the big-dollar contributions made on both sides of the issue in 2015.
For example, Accountability and Disclosure Commission records show that Gov. Pete Ricketts has donated $300,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, making him one the largest backers of the campaign since it first formed. Ricketts has been vocally opposed to the death penalty repeal. He vetoed the repeal when it was first passed in May 2015, but the veto was overturned by the Legislature.
Other big donors over the past two years include Robert Mercer, the head of a hedge fund in East Setauket, New York, who has been a major donor to national Republican political candidates. Mercer gave the Nebraska death penalty supporters $100,000, commission records show.
A Lincoln-based group called the Judicial Crisis Network also has donated a total of $300,000. The committee also received $50,000 from Citizens For a Sound Government, a Denver-based group that advocates for limited government.
Nebraskans for Public Safety also received major contributions last year, commission records show, including several donations totaling $598,495 from the Proteus Action League, an Amherst, Massachusetts, organization that supports efforts to abolish the death penalty.
The largest individual contribution in the most recent finance report was $50,000 from community activists Annette and Paul Smith of Omaha who received the 2015 Sower Award in the Humanities from Humanities Nebraska for their work in arts and humanities across the state and in Omaha.
Several Nebraska politicians, or groups representing their interests, also donated money to the group, including groups representing state Sens. Heath Mello of Omaha, and Colby Coash, Adam Morfeld, Kathy Campbell and Matt Hansen, all of Lincoln. All had been ardent supporters of the legislative efforts to abolish the death penalty and to override the governor’s veto.
Other contributions came from organizations such as the ACLU of Nebraska, Equal Justice USA, Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Retain a Just Nebraska and the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association.
State campaign financial disclosure laws require the committees to report their financial data again 10 days before the election and at the end of the year.