A Lincoln attorney went to court to unmask the person behind anonymous campaign fliers that landed in mailboxes before the May City Council election.
He learned this week it was somebody already on the council Republican Glenn Friendt, who did not run for re-election.
The mailings targeted Democratic candidates Dan Marvin and Terry Werner. Marvin won a seat on the council, but Werner was defeated in his re-election bid.
Vince Powers, recently elected Democratic National Committeeman, filed a civil complaint in Lancaster County Court in May, alleging the sender violated state campaign finance laws by not reporting the money spent on the mailings.
He filed the complaint against John Doe and/or Jane Doe.
Powers was surprised to find out who John Doe turned out to be.
"I was stunned," he said. "I thought it would be some anonymous business person."
Friendt, who works at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Center for Entrepreneurship, did not return a call seeking comment, but his attorney did. Tim Engler confirmed Friendt was involved in the three mailings.
But he said three separate committees paid for each mailing, which he said cost a total of about $4,100 and aren't subject to spending reports.
Asked who was on the committees, Engler said: "I'm not at liberty to say."
Asked why the fliers were sent anonymously, he said: "That's something that I can't answer. But there's nothing improper with doing it that way."
Powers believes Friendt alone was responsible for the mailings.
And he said filing the court complaint brought results quicker than filing a complaint with the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission. He filed the complaint on behalf of Jeff Kirkpatrick, general counsel for the Nebraska Democratic Party.
"We are two Democrats who are sick and tired of the Democrats in this town letting the Republicans beat them up, so we said, Enough's enough,'" Powers said.
He wanted to go to court during the campaign, he said, but said he was discouraged by Werner and Marvin.
He subpoenaed records from Niche Marketing, a shop that assembles and mails materials, which turned over Friendt's name to Powers this week.
Accountability and Disclosure Commission Director Frank Daley said the person who pays for the printing and distribution of campaign materials is required to put a name and street address on the material unless the person is spending his or her own money and doing it without consulting any campaign.
But someone spending more than $250 must file a report with the commission within 10 days, he said.
A group of people acting as a committee would be required to include a name and address disclaimer on the material, Daley said. But if it's a group of individuals using their own funds and not functioning as a committee, they wouldn't have to print a disclaimer but would be required to report spending of more than $250.
Powers said the expenditures which totaled $4,000 were not reported. The penalty for filing a report late is $25 per day, up to $750, and a civil penalty of up to $2,000 may apply.
Werner said Friday it was "amazing" to him Friendt was connected with the mailings. Friendt also publicly criticized Werner in TV ads questioning Werner's patriotism.
"I had no bad feelings about anybody on the council," he said. "We bumped heads on a lot of major issues and I think maybe he held a deeper resentment than I did."
The case is still in litigation, and Powers said he's not sure whether he'll dismiss the suit now that he's revealed the mailer.
"Republicans are now on notice," he said. "They're not going to be able to hide behind anonymous mailings."
Reach Deena Winter at 473-2642 or email@example.com.
Cats, dogs, developers
One of the anonymous fliers painted former City Councilman Terry Werner as anti-animal for pushing the city's living wage ordinance, the catalyst that led the Capital Humane Society to end its contract with the city.
The flier read: "This year for the first time ever, Terry Werner has personally stonewalled a valid, competitive contract with the Humane Society. Why would he be so mean?"
The return address read: "Friends of Lincoln's Cats & Dogs."
Another flier attacked Werner for his stand on capital punishment.
And the third accused candidate Dan Marvin of having his "ears to the ground of some very important people who serve on his campaign" Brad Korell of Olsson Associates, which the flier called a "top engineering firm for the big developers," and Mark Hesser, president of Pinnacle Bank Nebraska, which the flier called "one of the top financiers for the big developers."
"When push comes to shove on neighborhood issues, who do you think Dan Marvin's going to listen to?"
The return address: "Lincoln Neighbors Alert."