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Arkansas Supreme Court candidate Barbara Webb outraised her opponent, Circuit Judge Morgan "Chip" Welch, for the second straight month in December, according to newly filed reports.

Welch, however, maintained his lead in total fundraising on top of a strong start to the race for Position 4. It is the only position up for election on the seven-member court.

Webb raised $41,430 in December, improving upon her haul from November, when she launched her campaign.

"We are raising funds that I believe is needed to run an effective campaign," Webb said Thursday. "We're continuing to raise funds and are up to put our whole campaign plan in action."

Welch, meanwhile, raised $32,431 last month, also an improvement from his November totals. Welch's strongest month of fundraising came in October, when he raised $41,670.

Welch said Wednesday that his campaign "did pretty well" in December by staying ahead of Webb in terms of total fundraising. He predicted, however, that Webb would soon close the gap with contributions from business interests.

"We're probably going to be playing defensive after this report," Welch said.

A fundraiser was held Wednesday night for Webb's campaign at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock. The fundraiser drew attention because of leaked emails from a chamber lobbyist that touted Webb as a stand-in for tort reform. The emails invited people to the event.

In an interview Thursday, Webb said she had not spoken with the chamber leadership about her views on tort reform, and said she was "shocked" to see the email.

The chamber has backed two ballot efforts to place limits on lawsuit damages and legal fees, only to have their efforts blocked by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"This election, between a business conservative and a trial lawyer, is essentially a tort reform battle that's a much cheaper option than trying to get a tort reform ballot initiative passed," said Kenny Hall, the chamber's chief lobbyist, in an email that was first reported by the Arkansas Times.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette later obtained its own copy of the email.

"I had not made any commitments and I never would and that would be highly inappropriate," Webb said. "My vote on the court will not be for sale."

Reached for comment Wednesday, Hall said the email was meant for a private audience and gotten "stirred up." However, he said the email was "honest" in its message.

"Any time you look at judicial candidates, you're looking at their whole body of work, their philosophy," Hall said. "I'd be offended to talk to somebody about a particular case or style of case. It's all about viewpoints."

Welch, who has raised most of his money from attorneys, called the email for Webb's fundraiser part of a "brazen" attempt to make the March 3 nonpartisan judicial general election a surrogate for the issue of tort reform.

"I appear to have walked into a power play to take over the courts," Welch said.

Earlier in the campaign, Welch accused Webb -- the wife of Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb -- of being an overtly partisan candidate. He's said the same label does not apply to him -- his daughter, Ashley Hudson, is running as a Democrat for the state Legislature -- and that he has children on both sides of the political aisle.

Neither candidate has reported spending money on expensive TV or radio ads, which have dominated recent campaigns for the Supreme Court. Most of the money for those ads was spent by outside groups.

The Supreme Court seat will be decided in a nonpartisan election that coincides with partisan primaries. Two contested Court of Appeals races also will be decided.

Fundraising in those races was reported as follows:

In the race for the Court of Appeals' District 4 seat, Stephanie Potter Barrett reported raising $43,467 on top of $13,866 in personal loans to her campaign, and ended the year with $43,654 cash-on-hand. Her opponent, Emily White, reported raising $12,575 by the end of December, and ended the year with $19,222 cash-on-hand, after lending her campaign $25,154.

In the District 5 race, incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Mark Klappenbach reported raising $1,000 for his re-election, and ended the year with $450 in his campaign coffers. His opponent, James McMenis, did not file a campaign finance report.

Politics on 01/18/2020

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