Lawmakers Accused of Turning Votes into Cash

Posted on February 20, 2008

Lawmakers Accused of Turning Votes into Cash

An Action 3 News Investigation goes inside the Nebraska Legislasture where State Senators are accused of trading votes for dollars.

Our investigation begins at the State Capitol itself where top state officials looking for more office space and parking, set out to buy a building right across the street.

A building owned by the Assurity Life Insurance Company, which the state would eventually buy for 12 million dollars.

The deal was hammered out by a former state senator, and not just any former state senator.

The lawmaker was Don Pederson, who ran the committee that jump started the Assurity Life deal.

Then shortly after term limits forced him out of the Legislature, Pederson was hired by Assurity Life.

According to state records, Pederson was lobbying the "sale of a building to the state of Nebraska." Assurity Life paid Pederson 20 thousand dollars to get the deal done.

Jack Gould, who is with Common Cause, a government watchdog says, "In most states that would be a scandal."

According to Gould the Assurity Life building might be a good buy for the state, but Gould thinks Pederson went too far: "He was being paid 12 thousand dollars a year as a senator, he got 20 thousand dollars for six months work."

Pederson who has refused to talk to us about this isn't the only ex-senator accused of cashing in.

Take the former Speaker of the Legislature Omaha's Kermit Brashear.

While he was Speaker Brashear pushed a controversial internet bill through the Legislature.

Critics claimed the bill would make big money for cable companies like Cox Cable.

One year after term limits forced Brashear out of the Legislature he started lobbying for Cox, and has been paid 3 thousand dollars a month.

Brashear has not talked to us about any of this.

State Senator Mike Friend of Omaha tells Action 3 News he does not think any of this is a problem, and Friend opposes a bill that would ban ex-lawmakers from lobbying for at least two years. "My next door neighbor has just as much influence with me as Kermit Brashear"."

But even Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman wants to stop the revolving door, stop Senators from checking out of the legislature and cashing in as a lobbyist.

According to the Governor, "Open government, no secrets. Everything out in the open. I think this is just one more step in that regard, where we say we want a clear difference between when you're an elected official and when you become a lobbyist."

But the bill to stop the revolving door is apparently dead in this year's Legislature, although it will likely be re-introduced next year.

Right now the federal government and 30 states including Iowa ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists, some for a year some for two years.

Date: 2/20/2008 12:00:00 AM

Office: Common Cause Nebraska

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