Senators call for transparency in campaign spending


March 23rd, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Voters could know more about campaign spending, under a bill advancing in the Legislature.

Sen. Avery says his bill was prompted by critical mailers sent out by Americans for Prosperity last year (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Lincoln Senator Bill Avery said his bill is designed to address situations like one last year, when the conservative group Americans for Prosperity sent out mailings critical of several Democratic legislators. Americans for Prosperity argues that it does not have to disclose how much it spent, because it didn’t explicitly ask people to vote against the senators it criticized.

The bill would require groups to disclose their spending if they mention candidates by name and distribute materials to the electorate within 30 days of the election. Avery said it would help the political process. Senator Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha disagreed.

“This bill can’t accomplish what we want to accomplish because what we want to accomplish is for campaigns to be fair and honest and aboveboard,” Lautenbaugh said. “And we’ve lost the ability to do that, apparently. And part of that deals with our existing statutory scheme and the fact that we force the money underground through the CFLA.”

Lautenbaugh was referring to the state’s Campaign Finance Limitation Act. He argued that by limiting how much can be spent by campaign organizations, that Act forces people who want to spend money on elections to do so through independent groups. Avery said he was just trying to shed some light on that practice.

“We do not try to alter or influence the content of that communication. We do not try to alter in any way the amount of money they can spend,” Avery said. “All we’re trying to do is bring the money that Senator Lautenbaugh says is being forced underground, bring it to the surface. Let us see. And by doing so, we do serve an important public purpose and that is transparency and accountability.”

Senators then voted 31-0 to give the bill first round approval.

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