Ex-lawmaker’s crime and punishment spotlight campaign cash tricks

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  • Gavin Geis

She wasn’t the first but maybe, just maybe, former State Sen. Brenda Council will be one of the last to use a loophole in the law to pocket thousands of dollars in campaign cash.

On Friday Council, a former partner in one of Omaha’s most prestigious law firms, was disbared by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The legal death penalty followed Council’s criminal convictions, two state misdemeanors and a federal felony, for in effect hiding the fact that she was using the campaign funds, $63,000 in all, to feed her gambling addiction.

This January, Nebraska lawmakers— some who served with Council— will look at legislation designed to stop the cash and carry shenanigans.

How? 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,” says Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue whose bill would shut down the loan game.

“The public expects campaign contributions to be used for campaigning and not personal use,” Common Cause’s Jack Gould tells Nebraska Watchdog.

Last year a similar bill died a quiet death in Lincoln—failing to get out of committee it never made it to the floor for an up or down vote.

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

It’s believed that had Council been forced to report her campaign bank transactions, auditors would have been on to her scheme sooner than later.

More at Nebraska Watchdog.