Campaign cash schemes targeted — again

More than two years after former state Sen. Brenda Council found herself in the middle of a campaign cash scandal which eventually helped squeeze her out of office, at least one state lawmaker continues her seemingly uphill push to end any similar schemes.

At the same time, those backing the changes in campaign laws worry other lawmakers will find a way to stop it or slow it down.

Council was convicted of two state misdemeanors and a federal wire fraud felony for, in effect, hiding the fact that she used $63,000 in campaign funds to feed her gambling addiction.

State Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue is once again stepping in with legislation designed to stop such cash-and-carry shenanigan by making it illegal for candidates to turn campaign contributions into a line of credit.

That’s right, according to state law, it’s perfectly legal for politicians to loan themselves money from their campaign accounts.

“That’s not acceptable,” Crawford has told Nebraska Watchdog.

“The public expects campaign contributions to be used for campaigning and not personal use,” says Jack Gould of  Common Cause Nebraska.

Last year a similar bill died a quiet death in Lincoln, failing to get out of committee and to the floor for an up-or-down vote.

Crawford says that’s because another key provision of the bill — allowing state auditors to cross-check campaign accounts with bank statements — had lawmakers worried sensitive bank information could be leaked. Crawford says her bill plugs those leaks.

But Gould tells Nebraska Watchdog those banking provisions continue to make other senators nervous — nervous enough to concoct other reasons not to support Crawford’s plan.

“It’s about honesty and integrity,” Gould says. “In other states (Sen. Council’s) actions would have been a major scandal. In Nebraska, some felt sorry for her.”

During her 2013 sentencing in federal court, Council, a lawyer who was eventually disbarred, told the judge “What I did is not who I am.”

Some believe auditors would have caught on to her scheme sooner if she’d been forced to report her campaign bank transactions.

A public hearing on Crawford’s bill has not yet been scheduled.

Read more at Nebraska Watchdog.