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Massachusetts donations boosted death penalty opponents’ 2015 funds

Massachusetts donations boosted death penalty opponents’ 2015 funds

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LINCOLN — A Massachusetts group that opposes capital punishment has made another large contribution to an effort to sustain the repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty.

The Proteus Action League of Amherst, Massachusetts, gave $198,495 in October to Nebraskans for Public Safety, upping its total contribution to the anti-death penalty group to $598,495, according to year-end campaign finance reports released recently.

Nebraskans for Public Safety formed just after the Legislature, over a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, repealed the death penalty in the state.

That sparked a petition drive financed by Ricketts and others that was successful in suspending the repeal until Nebraska voters could decide the issue at the polls in November.

Year-end reports by Nebraskans for Public Safety indicated that it had raised $750,190 during 2015, and had about $13,000 of cash on hand.

By comparison, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the pro-capital punishment group that ran the successful petition drive, raised $940,133 during 2015. It reported having $9,991 of cash on hand, and $54,369 in unpaid legal and consultant bills at year’s end.

Dan Parsons, a spokesman for Nebraskans for Public Safety, said the group has entered “phase two” of its campaign to retain the repeal of the death penalty, which is to mobilize voters to defeat the referendum.

He made no apologies for the large donations from a group outside of the state and said that recently, more contributions have been received from Nebraskans.

“Obviously, this is an issue that’s not only important to Nebraska but the whole country,” Parsons said. “Both sides will continue to get interest from outside of this state. We’re not going to shy away from that.”

The Proteus Action League has said the primary source for its contributions in Nebraska is billionaire businessman Chuck Feeney, an Irish-American who has pledged to give away his $7.5 billion fortune to promote education, human rights and health care causes.

Feeney founded the Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the largest private foundations in the world.

From Sept. 22 to the end of 2015, Nebraskans for Public Safety reported raising $288,611. That compares to $36,701 raised by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

The largest new donation for the pro-death penalty group came from a Denver organization called Citizens for a Sound Government. That same group ran attack ads against then-Attorney General Jon Bruning, who was an unsuccessful challenger to Ricketts for the 2014 GOP nomination for governor.

Ricketts was one of the prime financiers of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty’s drive during 2015, contributing $200,000. Ricketts’ father, Joe, who started the family company TD Ameritrade, gave $100,000.

The pro-death penalty group collected more than 143,000 valid signatures from Nebraska voters in just over two months to force the referendum and the suspension of the death-penalty repeal. Their spending translated into about $6.30 per signature.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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