LINCOLN — A state senator behind a measure that would make it harder for candidates to misuse campaign donations is urging the introducer of a competing proposal to back down.
As amended, the measure by Bellevue State Sen. Sue Crawford would allow the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to check the year-end balances of campaign committees against bank records.
Legislative Bill 166, which has gained the support of 30 state senators who have signed on as sponsors, also would prohibit the granting of loans from campaign funds, and increase penalties for violators.
On Wednesday, the last day of bill introduction in the State Legislature, Gretna Sen. John Murante introduced a competing bill that would prohibit loans from campaign funds and increase penalties — but would not require the check of year-end balances.
Murante is the chairman of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, where LB 166, Crawford’s carryover bill, is being held.
Crawford said Murante’s proposal pulls back from the strong campaign finance reform that a majority of senators want to see.
But Murante said he introduced his bill to “make absolutely sure” some campaign finance reform gets done this session.
Two senators on the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee said they don’t support Crawford’s measure, while two have signed on as sponsors. Two are undecided. A seventh member, Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Murante, meanwhile, has offered LB 1057, his own proposal. Crawford said Murante should withdraw it and “do the right thing” by advancing her bill, even with a committee amendment to strike the campaign balance portion.
By introducing his measure, she said, Murante is trying to avoid a public vote on the floor.
LB 166 last year received unanimous support from the six-member, bipartisan Accountability and Disclosure Commission, which includes Secretary of State John Gale.
“Instead of introducing LB 1057, which stalls the process, we can have debate on campaign finance reform and whether or not to include balances on the floor right away if they just advance LB 166, with or without their committee amendment,” she said.
Murante said his committee has had more executive session discussion on LB 166 than any other bill.
“It’s pretty clear we’re not avoiding a discussion,” he said. “It’s also clear that at the moment she does not have the votes to advance it from the committee.”
Sens. Tommy Garrett and Matt Hansen are the two government committee members who have signed on as co-sponsors to Crawford’s bill.
Murante said reporting bank records as required under Crawford’s bill could create an undue burden for candidate committees that aren’t doing anything wrong. He said any additional requirements need “to have a demonstrated purpose” and should be “narrowly focused.”
Even if Crawford’s bill is advanced from committee, Murante said he plans to continue work on his bill.
“The hiccup ... is how to provide the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission with the necessary information without creating an undue burden on candidate committees,” he said. “If we can get that figured out, then my bill becomes unnecessary.”
Another committee member, Omaha Sen. Joni Craighead, said she doesn’t like Crawford’s proposal and doesn’t want to legislate based on one instance.
Crawford introduced the measure last session as a way to address the sort of embezzlement involving former Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha, who was convicted in 2012 and 2013 of gambling away $63,000 that had been donated to her campaign.
Current law does not provide a way for the Accountability and Disclosure Commission to cross-check campaign finance reports.
“Statistically, the number of cases are very small,” Craighead said.
Annual bank statements of committee bank accounts would allow the commission to detect unlawful activity sooner, said Frank Daley, executive director of the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
While the commission has access to bank records during an audit or formal investigation, an annual requirement could deter someone from misusing funds in the first place, he said.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said he doesn’t support Crawford’s measure. He hasn’t decided on Murante’s proposal but said Murante has never led the state astray on related legislation.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said he’s undecided on either, while Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he likes both ideas and hasn’t committed to one or the other.
Groene said he’ll probably start voluntarily sending his bank statements in at the end of the year because “the people should know.”
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