Jack Gould: Campaign Extortion?

Campaign Extortion?

The Unicameral is in session and 350 lobbyists are eager to win favor. What a perfect time to hold a fundraiser breakfast at Billy’s or the Nebraska Club. Of course the Senators are not influenced by campaign contributions and the lobbyists give generously with no strings attached.

A restaurant like Billy’s is closed to the public for breakfast. The public and the press are not permitted to witness the transactions. Lobbyists and Senators send out private invitations usually asking lobbyists for a $100 contribution at the door while fellow Senators get complimentary passes. Individual contributions must be kept under $250 so the contributor’s names will not have to be reported. A Public Service Commissioner appears to hold the record by raising over $19,000 at a Billy’s fundraiser. Only the total amount raised has to be reported.

The invitations clearly point out: “If unable to attend, please mail your contribution to: (Senator’s name).” Some Senators actually take attendance and follow up with a letter and a return envelope to non- attending lobbyists. The implication is, if you don’t come across you are not likely to influence me. Is extortion too strong a word?

The calendar in the Clerk of the Legislatures office indicates a fundraiser breakfast every ten days during the session. This may be a conservative number since some fundraisers are not recorded.

It is clear that incumbents have a great advantage over any challenger by employing the in session fundraiser. The lobbyists are handy, the legislative leverage is in place, and the geographic location is perfect. Even better you don’t have to make a campaign speech or any promises to the press or the public.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that sixteen states prohibit any campaign contributions during their legislative sessions. Twelve more states prohibit registered lobbyists from making contributions during legislative sessions. Nebraska, obviously, isn’t one of those states.

Jack Gould

Issues Chair

Common Cause Nebraska

This letter to the editor was published in the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday, April 29, 2007.