Exclusive: Campaign Cash Shuffle Challenged

It does not speak well for our democracy

- Jack Gould, Common Cause Nebraska

Omaha, Ne.—When it comes to issues Republican Dave Heineman and Democrat Jeremy Nordquist have little in common but when it comes to spreading their political wealth, well that’s a different story.

In the last two years Heineman doled out $7,000 in campaign cash, Nordquist $21,000.

And it didn’t come out of their own pocket, it came out of other pockets:  The Heineman and Nordquist campaign committees, “Nordquist for Legislature” and the “Governor Heineman Committee.” Much if not all of the money was apparently left over from Heineman’s 10 years as the state’s chief executive and Nordquist’s eight years representing south Omaha in the Unicameral.

It’s the kind of contributions (see video above) that perplex voters like Kathy Cooper of Springfield, who spoke with News Channel Nebraska.

NCN: If you gave money to a candidate would it bother you if that candidate turned around and gave that money to someone else, another candidate?

Kathy Cooper: Yes.  I gave it to that person to help further their way into the office. I think it should stay with that person.

Nordquist sent $1,000 to State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and $20,000 to former State Sen. Heath Mello’s failed run for Omaha mayor. Heineman shelled out cash to four campaigns: $2,500 to State Sen. Mike Hilgers, $2,500 to Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, $1,000 to State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan and $1,000 to Ian Swanson, who came up short in his bid for the Legislature.

By the way Heineman and Nordquist were not alone. The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission confirms that during 2016 and the first several months of this year 53 Nebraska politicians contributed nearly $90,000 to their political pals. (Click here to see the full list of Campaign Cash: Someone Else’s Money).

“Some may view campaign dollars as their own property to be used as they see fit,” says government watchdog Jack Gould who opposes the practice.

Gould, a member of Common Cause, is aggravated by Nebraska politicians who take money donated to their campaigns and funnel it to someone else’s campaign.

“Perhaps it’s because most of their campaign funds come from special interests and those interests don’t care how the campaign money is spent as long as they have access and influence,” says Gould. “If this is the reason, it does not speak well for our democracy.”

Heineman defends his contributions. “It’s legal and it’s a common practice,” he said.

And it’s been business as usual for nearly 37 years. But it didn’t start out that way—in fact it started out just the opposite.

According to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission,  in 1976 the Legislature passed a law outlawing campaign to campaign contributions.

The law read:

 “A candidate committee shall not make a contribution to or an independent expenditure in behalf of another candidate.”

Four years later the following 21 words were added:

“…except that a candidate may make a contribution to another candidate committee for a fundraising event of such other candidate committee.”

According to Gould, lawmakers found a way to take care of themselves. “The guiding principle should be the will of the original donor,” says Gould. “It is difficult to imagine that the original donors, even a special interest, intended their contributions to go to another candidate.”

News Channel Nebraska has been unable to reach Nordquist for comment.

Meanwhile Heineman—who has shelled out over $145,000 to other Nebraska campaigns over the last decade— says he has no plans to curtail his contributions. “I use it to support individuals with values that represent the people of Nebraska and I will continue to.”

Gould is hopeful—but not overly confident—that lawmakers will outlaw this bipartisan money shuffling when the Legislature goes back to work in January.

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Joe can be heard Tuesday’s 7:10 a.m. KLIN Lincoln; Wednesday’s 8 a.m. KUTT Fairbury ; Thursday’s 7-8 a.m. US92 and 8-9 a.m. KNEN Norfolk and 8:55 a.m KBIE 103.1 Nebraska City.

 

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