Author’s Note: What follows is a reprint of an article published in the February 8, 2012, edition of the Lincoln Journal Star. The only difference between what you will find in the Journal Star and what you see here is a small but substantial one. As my article appears below, I have added links to relevant sites where information supporting the points I make in the text can be found, something that just can’t be duplicated in a newspaper format. I encourage readers to check the links out for themselves. Even with something I’ve written, I recommend you VERIFY. It’s just good policy.
Among the rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys is one admonishing them to “avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” Why? Because to do less undermines public confidence that justice can be obtained through our legal system.
In order to preserve public faith that state laws are enacted in the interest of the people generally rather than special interests or in the self-interest of particular legislators, shouldn’t the same rule apply to our representatives in the Nebraska Unicameral?
Take Senator Jeremy Nordquist, for example. For two legislative sessions, Senator Nordquist was a moving force in support of extending Medicaid coverage to pregnant women who were otherwise ineligible for coverage under federal Medicaid law. He was a very effective advocate for LB599, the bill that accomplished that goal when it was enacted into law over the governor’s veto.
This session, Senator Nordquist is leading the charge to expand state Medicaid coverage, something that’s optional under President Obama’s health reform law, the Affordable Care Act. He is one of the eleven co-sponsors of LB577, a bill recently introduced in the Unicameral that would do just that.
But Senator Nordquist has many disturbing connections to entities that are directly and substantially benefited by each of these Medicaid expansions. With respect to the prenatal care bill, a community health center called One World that is located in Omaha reportedly stood to lose $500,000 in revenues from prenatal care services if LB599 had not been passed. Senator Nordquist is a long-time board member of that organization, and was an active member of its board when he voted in favor of LB599 and when he subsequently voted to override the governor’s veto of it. He remains a member of One World’s Board of Directors to this day.
If One World stood to lose a half a million dollars in Medicaid funding when around 1500 women were declared ineligible to receive prenatal care at the expense of the Nebraska Medicaid Program, how much money does it stand to gain through the expansion of Medicaid coverage to all persons between the ages of 19 and 65 who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, reportedly over 50,000 Nebraskans?
But that’s not all. Senator Nordquist is an employee of Building Bright Futures (BBF), an Omaha-based entity whose mission is to “improve academic performance, raise graduation rates, increase civic and community responsibility and ensure that all students are prepared for post-secondary education.” BBF sets some very specific “priorities” involving government policy relating to health care, called its Healthy Futures initiative. Those priorities include restoring access to universal prenatal care and expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income working adults through the Affordable Care Act, priorities identical to those of Senator Nordquist in his role as a state legislator.
Incidentally, One World is listed as a program partner of BBF in connection with its Healthy Futures initiative.
But, again, that’s not all. Senator Nordquist’s position with BBF is apparently as a Senior Advisor within BBF’s Policy Development and Governmental Relations Office. Senator Nordquist is actually listed as a contact within that office. In his capacity as an advisor to BBF regarding governmental relations (i.e., lobbying?), what does he do? Does the senator have governmental relations with himself? Does his presence there indicate that he acts as a conduit from BBF to the Unicameral in furthering the goals of that organization, and his own, rather than the interests of his constituents or of Nebraskans generally?
Any judge or attorney with these kinds of ties to a party interested in the outcome of a legal matter with which the judge or attorney was involved would be compelled to recuse or remove him or herself from any involvement in that matter.
Like members of the legal profession, members of the Unicameral have the power to police themselves regarding ethics and standards of professional conduct. If attorneys can and do impose the obligation of conducting themselves in a way that avoids even the appearance of impropriety, why haven’t Senator Nordquist and his 48 colleagues chosen to hold themselves to that standard? In the interest of maintaining the public trust in state government, shouldn’t we insist that they do?