Questions raised over money in affirmative action issue

Questions raised over money in affirmative action issue

By ANNA JO BRATTON / The Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. – Questions are being raised over whether both sides in Nebraska’s fight over a proposed ban on affirmative action are coming clean with their finances.

Nebraskans United, which opposes a proposed ban on race-based affirmative action, lists payments of nearly $56,000 to itself for voter education.

That’s too vague, says the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, which is asking for details.

On the other side, Super Tuesday for Equal Rights – the California group that’s the biggest contributor to the Nebraska group pushing the ballot measure – hasn’t given specifics about its donors. A law requires large out-of-state contributors to do so.

“Both sides need to get their act together,” said Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska, a political watchdog group. “It always needs to be very clear where the money is going.

“When it starts getting secretive, it destroys everything,” he said.

Ballot initiatives in three states call for amending the state constitutions to ban any hiring practices, university scholarships and other public programs that favor one group over others. Arizona and Nebraska officials are still verifying petition signatures for ballot measures there, while Colorado has the initiative on the November ballot.

The efforts are financed primarily by California businessman and activist Ward Connerly’s American Civil Rights Coalition. Voters in California, Michigan and Washington have approved similar, Connerly-backed proposals.

Questions about finances are nothing new for Connerly, who paid $95,000 in 2005 to settle a lawsuit in California over whether he had to disclose individual donors for nearly $1.7 million in contributions to a different initiative.

Nearly $490,000 of the more than $609,000 the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative has raised came from Super Tuesday. Under Nebraska law, individual donors must be disclosed if a group gives that much money.

But Connerly said this week his group shouldn’t have to do so because it isn’t required of other organizations, such as the NAACP.

“There should not be a standard applied to us that is not applied to them,” Connerly said. Donors could be intimidated or harassed if they’re named, he said.

In the meantime, Connerly’s group has taken a different tactic to keep from disclosing its donors.

The group’s out-of-state contribution reports show dozens of payments from the American Civil Rights Coalition to Super Tuesday, which in turn gives the money to the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative.

That extra layer might allow the group to keep from naming the individual contributors, said Frank Daley, executive director of the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

But he wonders whether American Civil Rights and Super Tuesday are the same entity. They share an address and phone number, and the same people act as representatives of the agencies, Daley said in a letter dated July 1.

The American Civil Rights Coalition said Super Tuesday is a “separate segregated special project.” It’s registered with the Department of Finance in Sacramento County, Calif. The filing, called a fictitious business name statement, is used when an organization is doing business under another name. The name of the registrant: American Civil Rights Coalition.

Meanwhile, Doug Tietz, executive director of Nebraska Civil Rights, says it’s his opponents who should be more forthcoming.

Nebraskans United has raised more than $350,000. In several filings, the group lists payments to itself.

The group says the money was paid to so-called “petition blockers” who try to persuade people not to sign petitions.

David Kramer, legal counsel for Nebraskans United, said it shouldn’t be required to disclose the names of those who worked as blockers because petition organizers aren’t required to release the names of individual circulators. Kramer said he’s working on a response to the letters.

Date: 8/13/2008 12:00:00 AM