- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father contributed most of the $244,000 collected by to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty campaign in its first reporting period, according to expense reports released Friday.

Ricketts and his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, each contributed $100,000 to the ballot drive that seeks to put the death penalty question on the 2016 ballot. The group released its financial information ahead of a Tuesday filing deadline with the state.

The petition drive began after Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty last month despite the governor’s veto. Death penalty opponents have launched their own campaign, Nebraskans for Public Safety, urging voters not to sign.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty reported that it has raised $243,866 from a dozen donors, including $10,000 from the Omaha Police Union and $25,000 from Michael Cassling, an Omaha CEO. Two of the donations came from out of state, including $250 from a Georgetown University law professor, William Otis, who served as special counsel to President George H.W. Bush.

The campaign said it spent $217,537.71, leaving it with $26,328.29 in cash on hand.

“We’ve been pleased to have financial support and volunteer support from Nebraskans all across the state,” said campaign spokesman Chris Peterson. The money raised “includes contributions that came unsolicited in the mail, online donations and very large donors. We’re grateful for those donors that have stepped up.”

A spokesman for Gov. Ricketts deferred questions to the referendum campaign.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty said it paid roughly $192,000 to Lincoln Strategy Group, an Arizona-based consultant that is using paid circulators to gather signatures. Peterson estimated that the petition drive could cost his group $900,000, roughly the same amount spent by a petition group that sought last year to raise the minimum wage.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has to gather roughly 57,000 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 27 to place the law on the ballot, and 115,000 to suspend the law before voters decide the question. They also must gather signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

The campaign has opened offices in Omaha and Lincoln, and plans to open one in Grand Island in the near future.

Peterson said circulators are active in dozens of counties, and the group plans to gather signatures at an upcoming concert in Omaha, a picnic in Fairbury and a rodeo in Clearwater. He said Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter was killed by a current death-row inmate in 2002, is collecting signatures as a volunteer in northeast Nebraska.

Nebraskans for Public Safety announced last week that it received a $400,000 donation from Proteus Action League, a national group that has spent millions to finance death penalty repeal efforts.

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