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Arkansas: Liquor Fight gets Expensive

The liquor industry in Arkansas is in a civil war of sorts over a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 general election ballot that has seen almost $2 million poured into having Arkansans decide whether they want local option rights or liquor.


Campaign finance reports filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission through the mid-October reporting period show some $1.8 million in contributions between the two groups that represent the “county line” retailers and the “big box” retailers in the industry.


And, with the amendment cleared for the Nov. 4 ballot Oct. 16 by the Arkansas Supreme Court, the two sides are bringing out the big guns, including statewide print, radio and television campaigns, focus group research, and direct mail advertising.


Supporters of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment are represented generally by Little Rock-based Let Arkansas Decide, chaired by Little Rock attorney David Couch, which is largely funded by corporate “big box” retailers and franchise retailers such as Brookshire’s, Kum and Go Stores, EZ Mart, Mapco Convenience Stores who are seeking a retail footprint in alcohol sales in Arkansas.


The AABA essentially eliminates local option elections on “wet/dry” issues and opens the entire state to the sale, manufacture, distribution and transportation of legally defined alcoholic beverages. Supporters say that it will generate new tax revenue for cities and counties.


In its latest filings with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, LAD reported two separate payments totaling $20,000 to Ariel Strategic, of Conway, for focus group research in the September reporting period, and one payment of $3,803.40 to Validation Vendotare for signature validation services.


While Couch has said he expects as much as $1.5 million in corporate support for the amendment, LAD’s Oct. 15 finance statement for the period from Sept. 1-30 shows only $20,000 in contributions, with a total $165,000 in cumulative donations, but a negative beginning balance for the period of $90,973.97 and expenditures for the period of $25,418.40, resulting in a closing balance for the period of negative $96,392.37.


The largest single expenditure for the group, to date, has been costs associated with initial petition canvassing.


Opponents of the AABA, represented by Citizens for Local Rights, chaired by Brian Richardson of Little Rock, generally reflect the “county line” segment of the liquor industry in Arkansas, which is organized into a number of groups such as the Conway County Liquor Association in Morrilton, the Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association in Russellville, and the Greene County Beer Association in Paragould.


In its AEC filings, CLR reported $303,175 in advertising/public relations services by Heathcott Associates, of Little Rock, including advertising in 14 television markets and 11 radio markets, as well as $21,135.77 for advertising through the Arkansas Press Association and newspapers in Russellville, Dardanelle, Morrilton, and Atkins, as well as $164,271.24 in direct mail advertising through 50 State Strategies, of Dayton, Ohio, and Custom XM, of North Little Rock.


For the period from Sept. 1-30, CLR showed a beginning balance of $444,819.13, and contributions of $319,996, with a cumulative total of $1,618,246 in donations. Expenditures for the period were $406,322.51, leaving an ending balance of $358,492.62. Cumulative expenditures through the period total $1,259,753.38.


For the Oct. 1-23 reporting period, CLR reported a beginning balance of $351,492.62, with $86,438 in contributions received, and a cumulative total of $1,704,684 in donations. Expenditures for the period total $209,087.29. producing an ending balance of $228,843.33. Cumulative expenditures through the period total $1,475,840.67.


The crux of CLR’s opposition has centered upon the amendment’s elimination of the “wet/dry” option of local control, and its opposition to language in the amendment which it says leaves the state open to liquor stores operating near schools or churches.


Richardson and others argue that the new tax revenue that may come with alcohol sales in cities and counties that are currently “dry” will be negated by increases in crime and other unintended social consequences. However, CLR maintains that should any city or county in Arkansas want to convert from “dry” to “wet,” it currently has that choice. Under the AABA, they say, that choice is eliminated, but the consequences are still present.

Source: Hope Star