Editor’s Note: This is the ninth article in a series about Nebraska politics, particularly as pertains to the Nebraska Republican Party and closely connected groups and their relationship to the “tea party movement”. We recommend starting with the article “Nebraska’s Ruling Class and the Perils of (Assisted) Political Suicide” which includes links to all other articles in the series.
Watergate was the scandal which resulted in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. The historical impact can be found within general culture. For instance, it is now standard practice, world wide, for scandals of all kinds to be labeled with the suffix “gate”, as documented to a minute degree on a Wikipedia page. A most recent and infamous example was the painfully embarrassing saga that led to the resignation of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, known as #Weinergate.
But a new suffix is not the most important or only addition to the American political lexicon resulting from Nixon’s Watergate. I think the addition of the following phrase has far more substance:
“Follow the Money“
I have not read the book, All the President’s Men, to know whether this phrase was actually spoken by Bob Woodward’s famous anonymous source known as “Deep Throat” or if the phrase was added for dramatic effect only in the film version (e-mail subscribers, click HERE to watch the video clip):
Dialogue from the script…
Deep Throat: Follow the money. Always follow the money.
Woodward: What do you mean? Where?
Deep Throat: Oh, I can’t tell you that.
Woodward: But you could tell me that.
Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just… follow the money.
Whether or not this precise conversation occurred, it was the trail of money that unraveled the entire Watergate scandal. Donations to Nixon’s re-election campaign, which staff attempted to launder in several intricate ways, were followed from their points of origin all the way to the burglars’ bank accounts.
In other words, seemingly-mundane accounting activities ultimately led to the toppling of a President.
Of course, every examination of campaign finance will not reveal a Watergate. But discovering the composition of Political Action Committees, the identity of top donors to particular candidates, and the amounts of their contributions can reveal patterns about politics.
I observed a number of political phenomena which made no sense to me for a long time. Having “followed” a lot of the money in Nebraska politics, my confusion has evaporated. For those wondering why so many politicians “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk”, often, following the money can provide some answers.
An earlier article in this series pointed out, to cite one very important example, that Nebraska’s Governor Dave’s largest contributor in a single election cycle when running for Governor was SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. My article was entitled “Governor Heineman Really Liked Purple People Before They Were ‘Cool'” because the $45,000 he received from that union was during a single campaign in 2006. Who’d heard of SEIU in 2006? The answer is worth repeating:
“…the group essentially operated ‘under the radar’ of American political discourse until the 2008 election season, when their association with candidate Barack Obama began coming to light. It seems interesting and important to note that the Governor did not receive any contributions from SEIU after the 2006 election.”
In addition to the SEIU contribution, the most up to date campaign filings reveal that the Governor’s second largest donor 2006 – 2010 was the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA), which is more commonly called the teachers’ union. It is interesting to note that the $52,185 in donations was received in a two year period (2008-2010).
Earlier, I thought my initial article about the Governor’s contributions should stand on its own. Enough said. Upon further reflection, however, identification of the major contributors to his campaigns creates, at the very least, an appearance of impropriety that is inescapable. We have written extensively about the CIR / collective bargaining issue. In fact, in this series, we’ve pointed out how troubled we are by the universal failure of Republicans to seize every opportunity they were presented to really reform or abolish the CIR. Even more outrageous, while that failure was in progress, NEGOP leadership attempted to use its own Party members’ failure in that regard to solicit donations for the Party as a whole.
It’s time to explicitly…
I will only focus here on the Governor’s role in the CIR / collective bargaining charade since we’ve previously focused on the legislature and NEGOP. So what are the Governor’s “dots”?
- Dave Heineman is a very popular governor; Nebraska voters handed him a significant mandate with a whopping 74% of the vote in re-electing him to office in 2010. That’s the highest re-election vote percentage for any gubernatorial candidate in the country. He could use this mandate and the bully pulpit to sway public opinion on controversial subjects…if he chose to do so.
- Governor Dave did get in on the CIR act a number of times, via local media coverage, talking very tough about “significant, meaningful, and comprehensive” CIR reform.
- The Governor did not use any of his national media contacts to any advantage during the length of the legislative session. Several cable news networks covered the subject of public employees and collective bargaining, very much focused on events in the state of Wisconsin. This coverage, however, included frequent mention of other states and included media appearances by other states’ governors and legislators. Interestingly, Nebraska was not listed on a Fox News Channel map of states with pending collective bargaining legislation, nor did Nebraska’s Governor appear to discuss the topic. Considering Heineman’s many appearances on Fox News and Fox Business, inquiring minds do wonder why the governor’s staff didn’t at least correct the omission of Nebraska1 A look at the Governor’s appearances in national media during this period, in fact, are hard to describe as anything other than bizarre. The facts about Nebraska’s economy, in contrast to the focus of these interviews just don’t add up. See the Fox Business Network appearance on May 6, 2011, as an example. Note that the legislature was still in session at this time, and in fact, the CIR legislation was not yet settled, but there was no mention of it in the interview. To contrast the interview with facts, see the following: our presentation materials for the Feb. 7th Business and Labor Committee Hearing, “Rich States, Poor States 5th Edition” p. 84 (download the PDF), Public Employee Unions: Breaking State and Local Budgets, 47% of Nebraska Births Paid for By Medicaid: Is That Good?, and “NE Budget: Senators Hope Feds Will Bail Us Out“, check out this map of current real estate foreclosure listings and use the GiN site search for terms like “budget”.
- Governor Dave participated in spreading rumors (they were running wild for months in a number of Republican circles) that there would be funding for a ballot initiative if the legislative process failed to produce an adequate result.
- The Governor did not complain publicly when his fellow super-majority of Republicans in the Unicameral voted Democrats into a number of Chairmanship positions in the legislature, including, most importantly for the CIR issue, on the Business and Labor Committee.
- Governor Dave’s lack of public objections to his fellow party members’ actions in the Unicameral has an unfortunate explanation; we received several independent reports that legislative chairmanship positions were dealt away to Democrats in order to ensure particular Republican priorities were not obstructed. Those priorities did not involve reform of the statutes controlling the CIR and public employee collective bargaining. Considering the Governor’s apparent power, it is not plausible that he had no involvement in endorsing these maneuvers.
- There is ample evidence, such as in the case of one of our “favorite” bills, LB1110, that if Governor Heineman talks, like E.F. Hutton, people in the Legislature usually listen. When he kills a bill, it’s D-O-A. (At least for that session.)
- The Governor failed to condemn the very questionable process through which the language of the CIR bill was produced. On the contrary, the Governor’s policy advisor, Lauren Kitner, was present at those highly questionable closed door sessions in Omaha. As we’ve already reported, the other players in the room were lobbyists and/or lawyers for union groups and other lobbying groups that are historically strongly pro-union. The Governor voiced no disapproval of the fact that it wasn’t a legislative committee writing the legislation, but a room crawling with the very interest groups who were opposed to any “significant, meaningful or comprehensive reform”.
- The Governor signed a bill that promises to hand even more power to un-elected bureaucrats, and few solutions to looming budgetary problems, yet he called it, “a victory for taxpayers”, and labeled the process, “…the Nebraska way…”.
Crickets are chirping on the subject of a ballot initiative, but there were a couple of other loud messages sent by these actions, and apparently our governor agrees:
- It’s a good idea for public employees to unionize and, apparently, it is some kind of “right”2 At the February 7, 2011, Business and Labor Committee public hearings for all nine legislative measures introduced dealing with the state’s collective statutes, Nebraska League of Municipalities’ representative, Lynn Rex, stated to the committee in reference to what any CIR reform should include, “…we think collective bargaining is a fundamental right that should be there”. See the hearing transcript pages 184 – 185.
- Budget short-falls and tax increases are not significant problems in state or local governments in Nebraska – none of the public employee pension funds or health benefit costs are in the red or are going to need further bailouts from taxpayers; Nebraska balanced its budget without raising taxes and not by sucking up federal dollars with a fire hose; local governmental entities did not see cuts to their budgets nor did they have to resort to tax increases.
- It’s not necessary to take the available opportunity to fragment the most powerful political coalition in Nebraska, which includes unions (both public and private); lawyers and lobbyists; and certain municipal, school associations, and other pro-union groups.
- The people of Nebraska who wanted real action on the CIR issue are gullible.
- Nebraska taxpayers can go pound sand.
Why did this happen? Does the whole charade make sense to anyone?
Yes. It makes sense if we take the following into account…
Two of the three largest contributors to Governor Heineman’s campaigns were public sector unions.
See how following the money just makes those dots connect, as if by magic? Are there any further questions about the whole CIR / collective bargaining legislation issue, ladies and gentlemen?
My operating premise is that Governor Heineman has significant political power. One of the “dots” I listed above proves that he, is, at the very least, very popular with Nebraskans, which is, in itself, significant political power.
But does the Governor have power beyond that which comes with his popularity? Does the Governor have power beyond that which comes with the office of the chief executive of the state? Who in Nebraska’s Ruling Class shares and wields such political power? Our next installment will examine these and other questions.
(E-mail subscribers, click HERE to view the included video “The O’Jays – For the Love of Money”.)
Map image, unedited, from Clker.com. Version displayed, edited by GiN.
“Connect the Dots” image from DOTCivilRights (ironic – your tax dollars at work)
E.F. Hutton Ad, 1978, from Vintage Ad Browser
References & Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||A look at the Governor’s appearances in national media during this period, in fact, are hard to describe as anything other than bizarre. The facts about Nebraska’s economy, in contrast to the focus of these interviews just don’t add up. See the Fox Business Network appearance on May 6, 2011, as an example. Note that the legislature was still in session at this time, and in fact, the CIR legislation was not yet settled, but there was no mention of it in the interview. To contrast the interview with facts, see the following: our presentation materials for the Feb. 7th Business and Labor Committee Hearing, “Rich States, Poor States 5th Edition” p. 84 (download the PDF), Public Employee Unions: Breaking State and Local Budgets, 47% of Nebraska Births Paid for By Medicaid: Is That Good?, and “NE Budget: Senators Hope Feds Will Bail Us Out“, check out this map of current real estate foreclosure listings and use the GiN site search for terms like “budget”.|
|2.||↑||At the February 7, 2011, Business and Labor Committee public hearings for all nine legislative measures introduced dealing with the state’s collective statutes, Nebraska League of Municipalities’ representative, Lynn Rex, stated to the committee in reference to what any CIR reform should include, “…we think collective bargaining is a fundamental right that should be there”. See the hearing transcript pages 184 – 185|