A mystery group that funded two attack ads against Republican mayoral candidate Jean Stothert gave a big hint Wednesday about its partisan origins.
The group — Omaha Alliance for the Public Trust — has ties to a conservative Republican nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The World-Herald also learned Wednesday that the Colorado group has a clear tie to Omaha: a key person connected to the mystery group is good friends with Darold Bauer, campaign manager for GOP mayoral candidate Dave Nabity.
Both Nabity and Bauer emphatically denied having any connection to the group, either by helping it to raise money or helping to launch its attacks against Stothert.
However, Bauer indicated he may know some of the donors who have given to the group. When asked several times if he knew who was funding the anti-Stothert effort, Bauer said: “What difference does it make if I do or I don't? I'm not raising money for this.”
Nabity said he had no idea who was behind the anti-Stothert fliers, which began showing up in thousands of Omahans' mailboxes on Saturday.
The ads attempt to raise questions about Stothert's conservative credentials, with altered pictures that show her standing next to Democratic President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The flier depicting Obama notes, correctly, that Stothert twice voted to raise taxes as a member of the Millard school board, also saying “she avoided hard choices.'' But it says nothing about her opposition, as a member of the City Council, to all of Suttle's tax increases.
The other flier accused Stothert of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions, based on an answer she gave in a 2006 questionnaire. Stothert has since said she opposes such funding, a point reflected in subsequent questionnaires by pro-life groups.
Stothert's camp has condemned the mailings, saying they were launched by “nameless, faceless cowards hiding behind front groups.”
Nabity said he didn't need the help of a “shadow” group to criticize Stothert, noting that his campaign has launched television ads critical of Stothert this week.
“I don't need to hide behind shadow groups. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say,” he said.
Nabity and Stothert are considered the leading Republican contenders in the five-way race for mayor. Both are running as fiscal conservatives.
The other three candidates in the race are Democratic Mayor Jim Suttle, Republican Dan Welch and State Sen. Brad Ashford, an independent.
The group that officially paid for the fliers was recently created in Nebraska. Omaha Alliance for the Public Trust filed its organizational papers Wednesday with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
In the filing, the group listed as its sole member a nonprofit known as “Set it Straight,” a political organization based in Colorado Springs.
That group has been around since 2006 and is run by Patrick Davis, a consultant who served as political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004. Davis also served as a consultant for Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg in 2006, when Stenberg ran for the Senate.
Davis and Bauer are longtime friends. When asked if he had talked to Davis in the last month, Bauer said: “I talk to him often.”
In an email exchange, Davis said he solicited all the money himself without Bauer's assistance.
Davis said Set it Straight, as a registered 527 nonprofit, must report the donors' names to the Internal Revenue Service, but they are not made public. He said he did not know who the donors support in the mayor's race.
State law requires that the Omaha Alliance for the Public Trust disclose its donors next week. (They must mail the donor list to the state by Monday.) However, it is possible that the group could list as its sole donor the Colorado nonprofit. This is frequently done in politics to hide a donor list. That's because nonprofit groups do not have to abide by state campaign disclosure laws.
The primary is set for April 2, followed by the general election May 14.
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