If you didn’t understand the specifics, you might find irony in the fact that Arkansas liquor stores have contributed $1.2 million — so far — to an effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to allow retail alcohol sales in all 75 counties.
Citizens for Local Rights, the committee formed to fight the Let Arkansas Decide amendment, reported Friday that $1.2 million had been contributed to the campaign by liquor stores, owners and trade groups around the state. The leading contribution, $400,000, came from Conway County liquor dealers. They enjoy a regional monopoly on alcohol sales, particularly lucrative thanks to the “dry” status of neighboring and populous Faulkner County. They want to preserve that situation, as do other county line liquor operations. The Poinsett Package Store, which neighbors dry Craighead County, contributed $100,000 and Greene County liquor dealers, another neighbor to Craighhead, contributed $60,000.
Lawyers employed by liquor store owners have filed suit to throw the alcohol proposal off the ballot. They challenge compliance with a filing deadline and also argue that the ballot title — legalizing sales where it is now illegal — doesn’t sufficiently disclose consequences. Backers of the amendment — primarily grocery and convenience store chains — argue that the deadline was properly interpreted by the secretary of state and that the arguments on impact are lacking.
Some of the money has gone to legal fees, but more than $800,000 was paid to Heathcott and Associates for public relations. That would appear to anticipate an election campaign.
This isn’t the only expenditure on alcohol. The Conway County liquor dealers spent more than $300,000 fighting a local option petition campaign in Faulkner County. It was one of three — also in Craighead and Saline — financed by Walmart and Kum and Go. All but Saline failed and the liquor dealers are fighting the Saline local option in court. They’ve won a lower court ruling to disqualify the measure, but the decision is on appeal. Walmart and Kum & Go have spent $1 million on those three local option efforts.
Let Arkansas Decide has reported incurring about $220,000 in expenditures on the ballot effort to date and $90,000 in contributions from grocery chains, but is expected to report far more expenses and contributions. It has been faulted by opponents for lack of disclosure to date, though it argues it has complied with the reporting law.