More Disturbing Donations To Dave Heineman's Campaign Fundby Kyle Michaelis
For starters, as a matter of political intrigue, one can't help but acknowledge the $5,000 contributed to Heineman by Attorney General Jon Bruning in September. Some will remember that Bruning was the most prominent Republican in the state to endorse Tom Osborne in his bid for Governor - defying Sen. Chuck Hagel's political machine, which offered key support to Heineman before Osborne even had a chance to enter the race. Not even Osborne's Congressional colleagues Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry were willing to cross Hagel and enter the fray on Osborne's behalf. That left Bruning alone in Osborne's corner, a lonely place to be when Heineman pulled off his primary "upset."
One wonders how far Bruning's $5,000 will go in repairing his relationship with Heineman. Probably not very far. Bruning faced no opposition in his own bid for re-election. And, having raised over $300,000, he was still able to run campaign commercials with an eye on future offices. Clearly, there was a little something left over for damage control as well. But, I wouldn't expect Bruning to be counting on Heineman's support if/when he finally gets his shot at a higher office. Nope, not that cheaply.
(As a side note, there is some discrepancy in the reports of Bruning's donation, with Bruning reporting it as an expenditure by his campaign committee but Heineman reporting it as a personal contribution. Not a big deal, but is it really so hard to file these reports properly?)
Another noteworthy contribution to Heineman's campaign was the $100,000 he received from the Republican Governor's Association. Considering Heineman's lopsided victory on Election Day and total dominance in terms of fundraising, this contribution becomes quite questionable in hindsight for the fact that the Republican Party lost a combined six governorships across the country, giving a 28 state majority to Democratic governors. But, trust me, I'm not complaining about the result.
Meanwhile, Heineman also took more than $30,000 from the billionaire Ricketts family, along with an $11,000 in-kind contribution from failed Senate candidate Pete Ricketts' campaign Committee. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who read my article just before the election about the ridiculous amounts of money the Ricketts family had poured into the Nebraska Republican Party and Republican campaigns in 2006.
Suddenly, the ads and the robo-calls Heineman recorded for Ricketts don't seem quite so selfless in their raw partisanship. And, to those keeping track of the Ricketts family's reach, it looks like another $41,000 should be added to the $12 million spent on Pete Ricketts' Senate campaign, the approximate $100,000 donated to the NE GOPs federal account (from 10 different Ricketts each donating the maximum allowable by law), not to mention a previously unreported $35,000 donated by J.J. Ricketts and listed on the NE GOPs state disclosure forms in two lumps sums.
It's a pity that no one will take the time to scour all the 2006 Republican candidates' campaign filings to create a more complete picture of the Ricketts family's spending. I just don't have the time, and - alas - it seems I'm the only semi-journalistic voice in the state who finds such information relevant and newsworthy.
But, there is one contribution to Heineman's campaign that goes beyond being an interesting tid-bit, truly raising serious and disturbing ethical questions. This contribution was made by Robert Phares, a former mayor of North Platte who was appointed this summer by Heineman to fulfill the seat left vacant by David Hergert on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents after Hergert was impeached and removed from office for repeated and unrepentant campaign finance violations.
Phares was appointed by Heineman on Aug. 4th, from a pool of 12 applicants. Later that same month, Phares made a $1,000 contribution to Heineman's campaign fund.
Now, Phares' contribution doesn't imply any quid pro quo, but the fact that it received no attention when it was made casts an ill light on Nebraska's press for not catching it and reporting it of their own accord. Without someone playing the role of watchdog, Nebraska's very progressive campaign disclosure requirements are practically worthless.
The contribution in question was only $1,000. In Heineman's $2.7 million campaign, maybe that isn't worth taking a closer look at. But, the circumstances demanded reporting whether or not there was proof of any wrong-doing. It is oversight that gives campaign finance laws their teeth. When no one is watching them for this sort of potential conflict of interest, we all but invite corruption and fraud.
People should not only wonder whether Phares was thanking Heineman for his appointment with his $1,000 contribution but also whether an earlier $100 contribution to Heineman in June might have played some role in his being picked for appointment in the first place. But, wait, neither of those contributions have ever been reported in the press.
Of course, maybe this was just Phares' way of showing solidarity with his fellow Regents. Regents Howard Hawks and Jim McClurg both donated $1,000 to Heineman as well. I'll admit - from this report and those this weekend - that I'm not entirely comfortable with elected officials making these contributions - not because they are inherently wrong but because the public should know about them as a check on their worst possible effect. And, the Nebraska media can't be trusted to make such information known because the news isn't sent to them on a frickin' press release.
I'm reporting these things only because someone should. I'm asking these question just because someone has to - because people should be aware of how great a role money plays in politics, even at the state and local levels.
This is not a cry of "wolf." It's not an accusation. It's not a paranoid fantasy. It's my attempt at shining a light where the Nebraska media is far too complacent and far too willing to leave the public who rely on them ignorant and in the dark.