Campaign finance limitation law shelved

2011-08-26T17:15:00Z 2011-08-26T17:30:04Z Campaign finance limitation law shelvedBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
August 26, 2011 5:15 pm  • 

The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission decided Friday to refuse to continue to implement or enforce the state's constitutionally suspect campaign finance limitation law.

That action suspending the law was designed to trigger a swift judicial resolution of the issue by prompting the attorney general to seek a determination in the courts.

Acknowledging the likely demise of the 1992 law in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case, supporters of campaign finance limitations already were at work preparing replacement legislation to head off what Common Cause Nebraska issues chairman Jack Gould described as a looming arms race.

Without some limits, Gould said, Nebraskans can "expect the cost of legislative races to go sky-high."

And if public dollars can't be used to level the playing field, he said, corporate interests  increasingly will dominate the election process.

Gould said he and others will seek legislation next year to provide a constitutional alternative.

The commission's decision came on the heels of an attorney general's opinion that a public funding provision in Nebraska law would be found unconstitutional in light of the Arizona decision. That opinion also suggested that contribution limits in the law probably could not be enforced independently.

Gould  told the commission that the 2012 Legislature will have an opportunity to try to determine "how a public funding system can be salvaged" and how campaign expenditures can be limited.

"We need to allow an average guy to run for office without being funded by corporate interests," he said.

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who attempted to repeal the campaign finance limitation law earlier this year, said he believes the commission made the right decision even if it's not clear that the Nebraska limits on nonindividual contributions would be unconstitutional.

It would be "manifestly unfair" to expect people to try to abide by rules that might change in mid-stream, Lautenbaugh said.

The decision to shelve enforcement of the law will allow the issue to be resolved as quickly as possible "so no candidate is disadvantaged," said Frank Daley, executive director of the commission.

In other action, the commission approved an advisory opinion stating that a plan creating a new privately funded First Spouse's Fund to help pay costs incurred while engaging in public activities does not conflict with the state's accountability and disclosure laws.

The opinion was sought by Duane Acklie of Lincoln, who believes funding should be provided to assist first lady Sally Ganem in paying the expenses of public activities. The fund would remain in effect for future first spouses.

The plan would prohibit contributions from lobbyists.

Former state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha and Gould told the commission the issue really should be determined by the Legislature.

"There is no definition here of the outer edges of what can be done with this money," Chambers said. 

And when money and politics are involved, he said, "there's a temptation to stray."

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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