Lawmakers ready to battle over money and politics

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April 22nd, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – The stage is set for a knockdown, drag-out fight over money in political campaigns.

This week, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced Omaha Senator Scott Lautenbaugh’s bill to repeal Nebraska’s Campaign Finance Limitation Act. That’s the state’s two decades-old law that tries to promote competitive elections and diminish the role of big money is diminished. One of the ways it tries to do that is by limiting campaign contributions from non-individuals – businesses, unions, independent committee’s and the like – to no more than 50 percent of a campaign’s total funding.

Sen. Lautenbaugh says Nebraska's current campaign financing laws encourage would-be contributors to form independent groups to fund attack ads (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Lautenbaugh said all that does is force would-be contributors to form independent groups to fund attack ads.
“What we’re trying to say here is look, that money still exists,” he said. “With the existing regime of campaign finance laws, we’re forcing it into independent expenditure groups. It’s still being donated just the same, it’s just being used in the most reprehensible and least transparent ways.”

Lautenbaugh added, “We might as well allow people to donate directly to the candidates – people meaning individuals and non-individuals – and at least you know who’s responsible for the worst of the worst as far as campaigning goes.”

In its original form, Lautenbaugh’s bill would have imposed stricter disclosure requirements, making records available online within a day or so. But after an estimate that could cost the state $300,000 to implement, the new disclosure requirements were dropped.

Sen. Avery called Sen. Lautenbaugh's bill “one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen." (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Lincoln Senator Bill Avery chairs the committee that advanced the bill, over his objections. He made it clear that hasn’t changed his mind about it.

“It’s probably one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen since I came here,” Avery said, “because it would unleash special interest money in campaigns. It would take all limits on special interest money out of the law. That is not good public policy.”

Avery said Lautenbaugh got only 12 votes when he tried to tack his proposal on as an amendment to a different bill last year, and he added, he doesn’t think Lautenbaugh has the 25 votes in the 49-member Legislature that will be needed to get the bill past first-round debate.

But, if that happens, he promised a filibuster.

“This is a bad bill, I will fight it to the last vote. He’s going to need 33 votes to win.”

Lautenbaugh said he’s confident he has more support than in the past, with new senators on the job and more senators sharing his view that the limits are arbitrary. Asked about Avery’s filibuster threat, he seemed unfazed.

“I have no idea if that’s bluster,” he said, “because he didn’t like the committee vote or if it’s actually a sincere threat, but we’ll see.”

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