It remains difficult to measure the full impact of lobbying money on the Nebraska Unicameral. Lobbyists are restricted to gifts of $50 per month per senator. Senators must report only gifts valued over $100. Principals, those special interests that hire lobbyists, only report total expenditures. Since food and beverages are exempt from reporting the picture becomes clouded. Golf outings, luncheons, holiday gifts, birthday gifts, wedding presents, and tickets to events are difficult to track to specific senators.
If we use TransCanada as an example, we know that over a two-year period the company spent $698,027 on lobbying activity but we cannot track the money to specific events or specific recipients. If TransCanada gave a senator a gift value under $100, neither TransCanada nor the senator would have to report the value or identify the gift. If TransCanada held an elaborate dinner and invited every senator providing food and beverages amounting to $200 per senator the expense might only show up in TransCanada’s total miscellaneous figure. The public could not find out if their senator attended or the actual value of the event.
The only lobbying entity that provides greater disclosure is the University of Nebraska. Several years ago the University agreed to disclose their “gifts of admission” so that the public could see who received the highly valued football tickets. It has been reported that the seating of senators is between the 40-yard lines about halfway up the lower section on the west side of the stadium. In 2012 the University placed a value of $792 on two season tickets. Senators are not required to make the “foundation donation.”
It can be argued that who gets free football tickets is a trivial issue but it is the only true measure of how accurately gifts are reported. The chart below is compiled from the University of Nebraska’s Principal’s Report and the Statement of Financial Interests filed by the senators with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The chart shows who accepted tickets, the value of the tickets and who actually reported the gift. The University reports tickets for single games of basketball and UNO ice hockey but those tickets are valued under $100 and are not require to be reported by senators. We hope this chart is not representative of legislative reporting but it is all we have with which to check.