Story by John Moritz, Michael R. Wickline
Saturday, August 13, 2016
A group aligned against a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution limiting lawyer fees in lawsuits against medical care providers received more than $400,000 in support from lawyers in its first month of fundraising, according to financial reports released Friday.
The Committee to Protect AR Families filed a report with the state Ethics Commission that includes the names of 17 lawyers or law firms in Arkansas and one in Illinois. The committee reported total contributions of $420,400, with expenditures of $7,715.
The committee was formed in July to oppose the proposed amendment, which also limits noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in lawsuits against medical care providers. A petition for the proposed amendment, which is backed by a consortium of nursing home owners, doctors and care providers, received enough signatures to qualify the proposal for the Nov. 8 general election ballot, the secretary of state’s office said last week.
Four Arkansas donors to the Committee to Protect AR Families gave $50,000 or more. Each of the four advertised that they do work in cases dealing with medical malpractice or nursing home abuse. The law firm from Illinois that donated — Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC — advertises on its website that it has recovered $5 billion in settlements from mesothelioma cases since 1999.
“I am honored to lead this fight and appreciate the legal community for helping our initial fundraising efforts,” Committee Director Martha Deaver said in a statement. “They have been instrumental in fighting the corrupt nursing home owners and their highpaid lobbyists while protecting Arkansans’ rights to a trial by jury.”
Supporters of the proposed amendment contributed more than $600,000 between May 1 and June 30, according to previous filings with the Ethics Commission.
Health Care Access for Arkansans, the committee supporting the proposed amendment, reported those contributions each month, which included a total of $330,000 in donations from the Arkansas Health Care Association, which represents most of the state’s nursing homes.
Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell, a self-described liberal blogger, in July filed a complaint against the association, claiming that the size of its donations required the disclosure of its contributors. The association filed as its own committee Wednesday, revealing pages of donors that included nursing homes and other medical operations.
Opponents of the proposed amendment have criticized the money given by nursing home owners. Jordan Johnson, a spokesman for the Committee to Protect AR Families, defended the money given by lawyers.
“Our funds come through the legal community that have represented thousands of Arkansans,” Johnson said.
Reached for comment Friday, Chase Dugger, the director of Health Care Access for Arkansans, said Deaver was spreading “scare tactics” about a provision of the proposed amendment that would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000.
“After this amendment passes, anyone seeking legal recourse will have multiple outlets beyond nonmedical damages to pursue, including no limit on punitive damages,” Dugger said in an email.
Neither Dugger’s group nor the Arkansas Health Care Association have released their July contribution reports, which are due Monday. Other backers of proposed ballot initiatives and amendments disclosed their most recent finances Friday.
A committee backing a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize three casinos in Arkansas reported spending $535,196 last month to increase its total spending to $1.002 million.
Arkansas Winning Initiative Inc. of Stuttgart reported receiving no contributions last month as its total contributions remained at $1.047 million. It reported $44,840 in the bank as of July 31.
The committee’s reported expenses last month included $236,278 and $186,641 to National Ballot Access of Lawrenceville, Ga., a petition management company, and $50,000 to Impact Management Group of Little Rock for political consulting and poll procedure.
Another committee backing the three proposed casinos reported receiving no contributions and spending no money in July.
In its filing for June, Arkansas Wins in 2016 LLC of Stuttgart reported total contributions of $25,500, all from Arkansas Resorts and Gaming of Branson, and total expenses of $25,400. The committee said it had $100 before its April report, leaving it with $200 in the bank on July 31.
The proposed amendment would authorize one casino each in Boone, Miller and Washington counties.