LINCOLN — The gubernatorial campaign of recently resigned Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy is shutting down.
At least two donors to his campaign said Tuesday their contributions were returned this week.
Sheehy resigned Saturday amid controversy, and the returned contributions signal that he is dropping out of the 2014 race for governor.
The lieutenant governor's most recent campaign finance report showed cash on hand of $203,538 and donations of $161,100 during the past year.
“He's a very credible individual. I feel very confident he will return all the contributions,” said Norm Riffel, treasurer of Sheehy for Governor and a longtime friend of Sheehy and his family.
Sheehy abruptly resigned after being presented with the results of a World-Herald investigation into his use of a state-owned cellphone. The probe found that he'd made over 2,300 calls, sometimes late at night, to four women other than his wife since 2009.
On Tuesday, office workers finished cleaning out Sheehy's old office in the State Capitol. His nameplate, above the door, had been removed.
Sheehy has repeatedly failed to return phone messages left for him since Friday. His car was spotted at the State Capitol early Tuesday, presumably to pick up boxes of materials removed from the office.
One of his major donors, Kim Wolfe of Columbus, said he received a $10,000 check in the mail Monday from the Sheehy campaign.
Wolfe, who owns an ambulance company with his wife, Jill, said he it was “a shocker” to receive the check because he had not asked for a refund.
Wolfe said he has known Sheehy for several years and was saddened by the scandal and resignation.
“If you look through our society, it seems to happen everywhere, from the president on down,” he said. “But if you're a public servant, you've got to be a little better than other people. There's no room for mistakes.”
R.J. Thomas, a Broken Bow, Neb., businessman, said Tuesday that he had received a $5,000 refund of the contribution he and his wife, Ellen, had given to Sheehy.
As of Tuesday, Sheehy had not notified the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Commission that he was closing down his campaign committee. But such a notification would not be required until January 2014, when the committee's next annual report would be due.
Riffel, a former state Republican Party chairman, said that he has known Sheehy's family for 35 years and that Sheehy's brother-in-law is an executive in the business he owns, A-1 Metro Movers/Atlas Van Lines.
Riffel, who is currently in Arizona, said he was not involved in Sheehy's decision to return his campaign contributions. He said he was shocked to learn of the other women and the state-issued cellphone.
“I think it's hitting family members like a lead weight, as it's hitting me like a lead weight,” Riffel said. “He's a good person. But sometimes good people make errors just like bad people.”
He said Sheehy, a former mayor of Hastings, Neb., was a key contributor to Gov. Dave Heineman's upset victory over Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne in the 2006 GOP primary. The Heineman-Sheehy ticket won Adams County, even though Osborne's hometown is Hastings, the county seat.
Sheehy's family, Riffel recalled, worked till 2 in the morning posting campaign signs to ensure that the Heineman-Sheehy ticket won the primary.
“He certainly had the credentials and reputation to be an excellent candidate,” he said. “With this happening, it's not in the cards anymore.”
World-Herald staff writer Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.
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