LINCOLN — Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has not abandoned his hard-line stance against accepting money from lobbyists, despite a fundraising letter his daughter, Gayla Chambers, sent this month to several lobbying firms.
Ernie Chambers is challenging State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha for the District 11 legislative seat that he held for 38 years before being ousted by term limits in 2009. As of her most recent campaign statement, Council had raised more than $50,000, mostly from political action committees representing interest groups that regularly lobby the Nebraska Legislature.
During Chambers' tenure, he often chided lawmakers for being beholden to lobbyists who contributed to their campaigns and provided free meals. A favorite quip was that he couldn't be bought for “a chicken wing and a biscuit.”
Several lobbyists said they were surprised to see the Aug. 3 letter from Gayla Chambers. It asked for their financial contributions “so we can work together to put Ernie Chambers back into office as state senator of Nebraska.”
Ernie Chambers seemed equally surprised when telephoned about it. He said he wasn't aware of the letter and had nothing to do with it. Chambers has formed no campaign committee to support his legislative bid, although a group of supporters has formed an independent committee on his behalf.
“I wouldn't ask lobbyists for the time of day,” Chambers said. “I don't want anything from them.”
Council, in contrast, says lobbying groups' willingness to support her is partly a measure of her effectiveness as a lawmaker. She said her campaign stresses her achievements during her four years serving in the Capitol.
Campaigns are expensive, she said, and people who support a particular candidate are entitled to make contributions on their behalf.
“That's a ridiculous suggestion,” she said, that if you get money from lobbying groups, “you're somehow beholden to them. I think I've represented this district well and the state of Nebraska well, and I'm looking forward to returning in January.”
Veteran lobbyist Walt Radcliffe was among those who received the fundraising letter from Gayla Chambers. “It just proves that no matter how much someone decries the influence of money in campaigns, it is still a necessary component,” he said.
But, Radcliffe added, it was “doubtful” that he or other lobbyists would contribute.
“The lobby would be an unusual source of campaign revenue for Sen. Chambers,” he said, dryly.
Gayla Chambers did not return a reporter's phone calls seeking comment.
Although her letter lists her as the treasurer of “Gayla Chambers for Ernie Chambers,” she has not reported the formation of a fundraising committee to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Her effort likely would be considered an independent committee to raise and spend funds outside the control of the candidate, said commission Executive Director Frank Daley. Disclosure statements would not be required until $5,000 had been raised or spent.
Another independent committee, Supporters to Elect Ernie Chambers, filed a statement of organization in July, after passing the $5,000 threshold. Tariq Al-Amin, treasurer of that group, said he was unaware of Gayla Chambers' effort and that she was not working with Supporters to Elect Ernie Chambers.
“This is the first I've heard of it,” he said.
In a second telephone conversation, apparently after speaking with his daughter, Ernie Chambers said she told him that she sent letters to what she believed were law firms and she did not intend for them to go to lobbyists. The back of the letter included an advertisement for her business, which conducts mental health and substance abuse evaluations for those charged with drunken driving.
Chambers said his daughter is a grown woman who makes her own decisions. He also quoted President Theodore Roosevelt, who once was asked why he didn't control his spirited daughter, Alice.
“I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both,” Roosevelt reportedly said.
Chambers stressed that he is not chastising Gayla.
“She means the world to me and I would give my life 10 times for my daughter,” he said. “She's doing this because I'm her father and it's her way of showing that she cares.”
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