UPDATED May 16, 2012: Note that this article was published earlier in the day Tuesday, before the polls even closed. I am not going to make any changes to this article so that you can read it, as written, before the race was declared. The only point to note, I believe, is that it is quite clear that regardless of who paid for the polls mentioned, they were obviously accurate, or did have the desired influence on voter opinion.
Things have gotten curiouser and curiouser this election season, and in Nebraska’s U.S. Senate race in particular. Our article, “Following the Jon Bruning Money Trail”, included some of the curious elements in the Senate race, although they may have not been detected by many. There was a lot of information to digest.
In that Bruning article, we included a number of images from Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) reports and FollowtheMoney.org images from filings for Bruning for Attorney General, the campaign committee, and two political action committees (PACs), for which Jon Bruning was listed as a controlling individual on the original Statement of Organization. We noted:
“…the reports…constitute only a representative sampling, [and] raise a lot of questions, some of which pertain to Nebraska’s state laws on campaign and PAC contributions and expenditures, some about other elective office holders in Nebraska, and still others about news media and lack of investigative reporting.”
There is ONE ISSUE to note about state laws and campaign finance: Since the Nebraska Legislature makes the laws, which the Governor must sign or veto, it is a fact that the politicians make up the rules under which they all operate. Yep. Can’t imagine why it is the mess that it is.
Beyond that, the issues of interest, we think, for the primary election, require a second look at a couple of the report images we first published in our “Bruning…Money Trail” article. This time, I’ve highlighted a few things.
Statement of Organization for Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow in 2008 listing the controlling individuals
Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow PAC Controlling Individuals:
Does anyone else’s eyebrows go up at that the thought of the Governor and the Attorney General as controlling individuals on a Political Action Committee?
For those wondering who Sam Fischer and Brian Buescher are, the first point to note is that I can’t state, definitely, whether there is any familial relationship between Sam Fischer and Deb Fischer, outgoing State Senator and GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate. Her husband’s name is Bruce, so any relationship would extend beyond her immediate family.
Sam Fischer is the Managing Partner of Meridian Central Public Affairs, LLC, which, the company’s website reports on its About Us page, “We develop winning strategies for political and public affairs campaigns through a combination of comprehensive research, strategic planning and precision execution.” See footnotes regarding the client list [1. Meridian’s political client list includes Congressmen Smith and Terry, Daub for Mayor, Johanns for Senate, several Nebraska PACs, including Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow, Governor Heineman Committee, the Nebraska Republican Party, and other candidates in and out of Nebraska. The firm also lists a number of public relations and fundraising clients, including the Nebraska Republican Party.]
Brian Buescher is an attorney for the law firm, Kutak, Rock; has run for office in Omaha, at least once, for City Council; and as the Lincoln Journal Star reported, April 9, 2012, will be the next Nebraska Republican Party Chairman. Mark Fahelson is running (unopposed, it appears) to be the NEGOP’s National Committeeman – Pete Ricketts is stepping down from that post.
It’s been said that from time to time here on GiN, we’re a little too subtle, or, even, “not very clear”. We tend to think of this as putting the dots out there and letting readers make up their own minds as to whether they connect…or not.
In this instance, I’ll connect the dots, even draw the picture – in other words, be as subtle as a heart attack…
Four obviously powerful politicos in Nebraska decided to put together a PAC in 2008 and call it by a vague name. So, what did Governor Dave, the Attorney General, a high-powered political strategy guy, and a lawyer/future NEGOP chair plan on doing with their PAC? Obviously, by definition (see language on the Statement of Organization form, above), PACs exist for the purpose of supporting or opposing candidates for election. This PAC reported it intended to do these activities for the November 2008 election. So, four high-powered politicos decided to influence elections in Nebraska.
As part of this picture, one dot will remain unconnected – readers can decide whether it belongs in the picture or not. The political junkie crowd and, even, credible, more disinterested sources accept as a “given” the fact that there is “no love lost” between Dave Heineman and Jon Bruning, especially following the 2006 election. The credible sources to whom I reported the formation of the PAC by Heineman and Bruning reacted in one of two ways: speechlessness or disbelief. So, I’d recommend, filing this unconnected dot, for now, under “things that make you go…hmmm”.
In order to carry out their intended election activities, money was required. As reported in the “Bruning…Money Trail” article there was an initial round of contributions paid into Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow in 2008, and it’s reasonable to call that the “seed money” for the PAC.
I have outlined Governor Dave’s, Jon Bruning’s, AND State Senator Deb Fischer’s contributions to this PAC. (Note that in addition to the $2,000 noted here – the “seed money” – Deb Fischer contributed $1,000 to Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow on 9/20/2008. Contributors highlighted in green were State Senators at the time their donations were made.) Really, for the purposes of absolute accuracy I should say, I outlined the contributions to the PAC made from each of these individuals’ CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE funds.
Mike Friend was a legislator at the time, but he is highlighted in purple along with Mr. Pete Ricketts because both are otherwise influential in Nebraska politics, and, at least for a period, they joined in an effort beyond the PAC. As we have reported before, it seems to be common knowledge that Mr. Ricketts is a benefactor of the Nebraska chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Mike Friend was State Director of AFP-NE for about a year, beginning in January 2011[2. Friend left his legislative seat to take a new job (created by the Urban Affairs Committee for which he had served as Chair) through an appointment by Governor Dave. Friend resigned from the appointed position to become the State Director for Americans for Prosperity in January 2011, but stepped out of that job when former Director Brad Stevens returned to Nebraska.].
So, returning to connecting the dots, drawing the picture…
It was not just the Governor, the Attorney General, and the two influential fellows noted who decided to form a PAC for the purposes of influencing Nebraska elections, it was also a list of Nebraska State Senators, a former State Treasurer, and a gentleman known to donate significant sums of money throughout the GOP spectrum including practically, or it seems like anyway, every GOP candidate, a think tank, a nationally networked watchdog “news” site, and the state chapter of a political organization calling itself grassroots with headquarters in D.C. Need it be said? Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow is one powerhouse of a PAC. Is it a weird Nebraska version of a “Super-PAC”?
As we wrote in the “Bruning…Money Trail” article, voters will have to decide whether or not contributors to individual candidates’ campaign funds are or would be just fine and dandy with those bucks being passed on and bundled to provide seed money for a PAC. Was this fact disclosed to the original donors? Should it have been?
Here is the report of expenditures by Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow, for 2008:
The highlighted names are the two Senators who won their seats. The only reason for the differences in color is to note that Senator Dennis Utter passed away this year. Beau McCoy is up for re-election to his District 39 seat.
Several things come to mind regarding the list of candidates who received the funds. What is less interesting than the success and failure rate, I think, are answers to questions similar to those already asked:
- Did contributors to Deb Fischer, Dave Heineman, Jon Bruning, and all the others listed, know their money was to be spent in this way?
AND / OR
- Did the original donors even support any of the candidates who received money from Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow PAC?
An additional point of interest pertains to the way the contribution to this PAC was reported on Governor Heineman Committee’s NADC expenditure report:
It is impossible to call the report from the Governor accurate, considering how the Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow PAC expended its funds. Is there some reason the Governor used what I’ve realized is the catch-all expenditure on a candidate committee report of “ticketed event” or “event tickets” to provide political cover for his part in seeding the PAC?
In addition to the way the Governor reported his contribution to the power PAC, I found that Deb Fischer likewise reported her “seed money” contributed to the PAC as some kind of “tickets” expenditure:
Do the Governor, Jon Bruning, and others who decided to put Nebraskans for a Better Tomorrow together and fund it, including Deb Fischer, work in coordination in other ways regarding elections?
To answer that question, we need to review a couple of points we’ve already made:
- We’ve already pointed out, GOP candidates run by turn, not by merit. Jon Bruning had already run for U.S. Senate in 2007 and stepped aside because it was Mike Johanns’ turn. Consequently, this election cycle it would actually be hard to turn Bruning down, or dissuade him, considering his fundraising prowess
- The timing of the announcements by Dave Heineman and Jon Bruning, immediately following Election Day 2010 regarding the Senate race, standing alone, indicates some degree of coordination
And add something new:
- We have not yet reported the astonishing amount of money contributed to the Nebraska Republican Party by a particular list of Nebraska’s politicians.
“Coincidentally”, several of the politicians noted here already – specifically, Heineman, Bruning, and Deb Fischer – all appear on the list, below, which is one page of contributions by candidate committees in Nebraska to the Nebraska Republican Party for the 2010 Election cycle:
FollowtheMoney.org reports that for that 2010 cycle, Dave Heineman contributed a total of $118,642, Jon Bruning’s PAC, Citizens for a Better Nebraska, $22,000. Readers will note that State Senator Deb Fischer appears on that list donating $1,200 (actually paid in 2009[4. FollowtheMoney.org appears to report contributions for an election year as from some period the year before (possibly the entire year) and the election year itself.]).
Heineman and Bruning campaign and PAC payments to the NEGOP are not limited to the 2010 election: see the “Bruning…Money Trail” for significant funds in 2006, and Heineman contributions in 2011 (not an election year), by clicking HERE.
Fischer’s contributions to the NEGOP, since 2003, are listed, below. Note that all of these contributions are listed as “Event Tickets” or “Fundraiser Tickets” on Fischer for Legislature NADC reports:
Sarpy County Republican Party
SO: What does any / all of this mean?
- Note that not all Nebraska politicians (elected officials, candidates for offices) contribute sums to the NEGOP, at least not from examination of campaign finance filings both on the NADC website or FollowtheMoney.org, with many reaching back to 2006, some earlier.
- I’d ask…just who is calling the shots at the NEGOP? I can’t help but think of the quote, “He who holds the purse strings”.
So back to connecting those dots, drawing pictures, and NOT being subtle…
Notable names I have not seen as contributors to the NEGOP:
- Pat Flynn
- Don Stenberg
Having previously described the Nebraska political landscape, in part, by drawing Nebraska-style parallels to the American Spectator essay “America’s Ruling Class…”, it seems that if Nebraska has a ruling class, those who bring home the political donation bacon to the NEGOP are card-carrying members, those who bring it in abundance may very well have, it could be said, “platinum cards”.
For whatever the reason, Don Stenberg, has been denied issuance of even the aluminum or tin membership card in this little club. I seriously doubt Pat Flynn ever bothered to fill out the application.
Don Stenberg has a decidedly perplexing status as a candidate, which, honestly, defies coherent analysis. I’ve tried and I must report a big fat #fail. Bottom line is, every analysis of Stenberg can cut one of three ways.
Analysis #1: Has Stenberg not been issued a platinum card because he doesn’t want one? If Stenberg’s perennial losses – one of which DID result in the election of Ben Nelson – are due to his having been an actual maverick (not the faux McCain version), in other words, having not gone-along-to-get-along, then he should have run that way. He failed to detect the anti-establishment sentiment that exists across the land, even here in Huskerville. Earth to Don Stenberg… heard of Dick Lugar? Lose the tea party pose, though, Mr. Stenberg. You can’t have started a political career when I was in grade school and get away with calling yourself a “tea party candidate” when my youngest child is now in junior high. Even the absurdly elastic definition of “tea party” does not stretch that far.
Analysis #2: Is it that Don Stenberg has always wanted a platinum card and he is like the kid who gets picked last on the playground every time and just won’t get the message, so the actual members just blow him off, automatically?
Analysis #3: Was Don Stenberg’s platinum card revoked when he had his chance in 2000 and lost the Nebraska U.S. Senate seat to Ben Nelson?
Whatever the reasons for that lack of “membership card”, what is clear about Don Stenberg is that, when he runs against Lincoln-based candidates, he is the more popular candidate in the 3rd Congressional District, and, more so than Jon Bruning, we GiN folk would wager. A review of votes, for instance, by Congressional district, in the primary election for State Treasurer in 2010 – Stenberg versus Tony Fulton – would bear that out.
What we think is not a coincidence:
Deb Fischer is from the 3rd Congressional District.
Straight up until the last half a week or so, we would’ve sworn that Deb Fischer’s existence in the race, as a faithful member of the Republican club, with her platinum card and all of that, was only in the U.S. Senate race to assure that Jon Bruning would succeed in the endeavor to claim “his turn”.
After all, truly, what in the world is up with Deb Fischer in the race? Using the de facto standards (not mine), devised by the political parties, the media, etc., etc. for candidates, Fischer doesn’t fit the criteria, except to serve, when asked by her party, as the necessary spoiler, with the benefit to her of getting her name “out there” for future purposes.
Understand that among the “curiouser” developments in this race, the chattering classes, even nationally, are reporting based on some polls that Deb Fischer has surged ahead of both Bruning and Stenberg or that she has surged ahead of Stenberg and is within the margin of error with Bruning.
The chattering classes analyze these developments as having been caused by:
- Increasingly negative stories and actual growing concerns about Jon Bruning (what started as a whisper campaign has turned into a dull roar)
- Failure, once again, of Stenberg to razzle dazzle voters
- Endorsement of Fischer by Sarah Palin, primarily, and a few others
- A last minute surge of ads run by the Joe Ricketts (father of Pete) Super-PAC, Ending Spending
My fellow Nebraskans, this whole thing just doesn’t quite compute.
IF Deb Fischer is truly surging – and I really wonder about that – I submit it may well be a lot more like a Governor’s race I was able to observe up close in South Dakota in 2002. Here’s the shortest version I can muster: With the “800 pound gorilla” that was Governor Bill Janklow having decided to run for the state’s only U.S. Congress seat, the Governor’s seat was open. There were three candidates in the GOP primary; the Attorney General, a businessman, and, a little-known State Senator from a rural county in the middle of the state. I got to see this whole thing up close because I lived in the southeast corner of the state where there was a growing population of Republican voters, and I was Lincoln Day Dinner Chairwoman, and sort of the right arm of the County Chair. So, it was a big deal, in other words. The Attorney General was one of the most genuinely decent people I’ve encountered in politics, the businessman literally dripped “slick”, and, I vividly recall labeling the State Senator as “pure vanilla…milk toast”. Long story short is that the slick businessman and the Attorney General engaged in a very juvenile fight over – unbelievably – theft of yard signs. State Senator Milk Toast won the primary.
The moral of the story for the purposes of dissecting the Nebraska primary is this: IF, IF State Senator Deb Fischer has actually surged ahead of Bruning and Stenberg, it may simply be due to concerns about Bruning’s ethics (or lack thereof), Stenberg’s perennial “also-ran” status in “big” races (i.e., he had his “turn” a long time ago and blew it), and just general discontent with the choices between known quantities (i.e., same-old, same-old). In short, it could be that Fischer is the sort of unknown milk toast voters would rather put in office given the two front-running alternatives.
The reason I question the Fischer surge?
Two of the three polls showing Fischer as surging were paid for by…
Joe Rickett’s Super-PAC, EndingSpending
(The third was a robo-poll, in other words not a live voice poll.)
In attempting to make any sense out of this tangle, I submit, as another dot that you, the reader, can choose to discard or connect, that the WHOLE thing is some kind of Rope-a-dope, ala Muhammad Ali. Noting the obvious tangle of relationships among the relevant parties; Heineman, Bruning, Fischer, and Ricketts, some plausible explanations come to mind. I keep mentioning Governor Heineman in this array because anyone who wants to contend that the guy who provides 1/4 of the funds for the NEGOP is not somehow involved in this tangle AND considering his coordination with Bruning going into this race, is being willfully blind.
Just WHAT, or should I say, WHO, this Rope-a-dope is, or stands to benefit, is not clear, so here’s some wild speculation:
- Fischer IS in the race to siphon votes off Stenberg; making people think Fischer has surged ahead is an attempt to create a bandwagon effect…vote for the winner folks!…Fischer splits the votes enough that Bruning carves out a win
- Heineman does not like Jon Bruning, but considering his powerhouse fundraising and, perhaps, some promise made in 2007 about 2012, the appearance of support had to be given, but the Ricketts SuperPAC ads and recent endorsements are an actual effort to undermine Bruning
- Fischer was only in the race to help siphon off Stenberg votes, but the increasingly troubling news about Bruning and the perennial dislike of Stenberg caused a last minute effort to actually hand the primary contest to Fischer
Regarding connecting those optional dots – this last one – I can’t make sense of this mess for myself, let alone draw a picture with it.
Whatever the reason Deb Fischer threw her hat in the ring, the persona she has exhibited as a candidate is likely best summed up by a comment from user, “Bobby”, on the Leavenworth Street site:
Bobby May 12, 2012 at 9:49 AM
“Can you imagine what a debate between Deb and Bob would be like? Same answers, every time.
Deb: We need to have a conversation.
Bob: I’ll work with everyone to fix these problems.
Deb: But I’m a citizen legislator, I know how to have a conversation.
Bob: I’m a decorated war hero, we worked with everyone in ‘Nam.”
Fischer’s surge, should it exist, can NOT be due to her voting record, ladies and gentleman. ‘Cause that is just plain bad. Let’s face it: She has been a State Senator in the Nebraska Unicameral. And at this point, that is ENOUGH SAID. To quote Robert DeNiro in the film Casino, “You’re either too stupid, or you’re in on it.” Remember…drawing pictures and subtle as a heart attack. I’m cranky…it’s Election Day…so sue me.
Fischer’s bone-headed support for a GAS TAX HIKE when prices were soaring in 2008 is pretty widely known
But, most readers don’t realize, just to mention a few, other important things about Fischer’s legislative career.
Fischer, as Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee…
- Introduced and successfully oversaw the passage of a resolution that repudiated the REAL ID Act of 2005 in 2007
and then later, most curiously…
- Introduced legislation that implemented REAL ID[2. Note that some of the program was implemented bureaucratically – meaning Fischer lead the charge on rubber stamping what the DMV did on its own. I talked directly to the Legislative Aide that works for Fischer and her Committee and went, point by point through the history on the legislation and the implementation. It does not add up, it does not compute.]
Wondered yet why your Driver’s License has to be mailed to you? It’s being processed into a national database and handled by a third party vendor, that’s why, and that’s REAL ID. Thanks, Deb Fischer.
- Introduction of legislation associated with eminent domain and pipelines[3. Sorry, I don’t have time to retrace my steps on eminent domain and pipelines legislation, but I do recall that it’s attached to eminent domain statutes, look up passed legislation, all of course on the Nebraska Legislature website.]
- The utterly bizarre M.I.A. of Deb Fischer during the entire TransCanada Pipeline feeding frenzy. And that is truly bizarre considering that the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee in the Unicameral has listed, only in part, as included in its jurisdiction items such as the following…
- railroad equipment
- common carriers
- commercial vehicles
- telephones; telecommunications
- Public Service Commission
It’s downright inexplicable how the special session regarding the pipeline was overseen by the Natural Resources Committee instead of Fischer’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Well, except for one thing…membership in that NE-GOP “Platinum Card” club seems to definitely have its privileges.
Regarding the Palin endorsement:
I don’t give a flying fig what a former Alaska Governor has to say about who I should vote for here in Nebraska. Literally, Sarah Palin…get outta here. I am offended – fed up with, really – the increasing acceptance, actually USE of affirmative action by Republican politicians and party elites. If voting for a black candidate just because he is black is wrong – it’s actually racist, if voting for a man just because he’s a man is wrong – it’s sexist – if voting for a Latino just because he/she is Latino is wrong – it’s actually racist, THEN, why isn’t voting for a woman, just because she’s a woman not also wrong because it is actually sexist? Please take your “I am woman, hear me roar” baloney to the Democratic Party where it actually belongs.
Just to highlight and underline the point that there are higher standards that must be applied than fashionable political party choice, color of skin, or even genitalia: the original Mama Grizzly (<— what IS that anyway?) endorsed a gal down in Oklahoma, just because she was…a gal…named Mary Fallin, a Congresswoman, in a very tight gubernatorial race in 2010. Few dispute that the Palin endorsement closed the gap. Fallin beat State Senator Randy Brogdon who had a coalition of support from, no question, the more conservative wing of the Oklahoma Republican voters. About ten seconds after she was elected, Fallin decided to take a $54.6 million dollar “early innovator” grant to implement the health care law in Oklahoma. Yep. That’s one grizzly mama, right there. It was Oklahomans who got grizzly: Fallin received so much heat for her decision that she had to reverse herself and return the grant.
And finally, regarding Fischer’s “conservative” credentials, it is long past time that the acceptance of teacher’s union money by Nebraska politicians be exposed, every time it’s found. Teacher’s union money should necessarily be considered politically radioactive. It’s fiscal suicide for conservative politicians. You will find below, the list of contributions Deb Fischer received from the NSEA, along with a couple of other union donations.
Deb Fischer NADC filings
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA) $1,500
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA) $2,626
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA) $1,200
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA) $200
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA)$1200
State Troopers Association $500
Nebraska State Educators Association (NSEA) $300