Television commercials supporting a Nov. 6 ballot initiative to expand Medicaid for an estimated 90,000 low-income Nebraskans hit airwaves across the state more than a week ago.
Insure the Good Life, the political action committee backing Initiative 427, purchased more than 900 time slots on television stations in Lincoln, Omaha and central Nebraska to air the 30-second spot by Election Day, according to Federal Communications Commission records.
Created by Clark Creative Group in Omaha, the TV spot is part of a multi-pronged strategy that includes door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, digital ads and traditional mailers, according to Insure the Good Life campaign manager Meg Mandy.
There was little organized opposition to the proposed Medicaid expansion — which is also before voters in Idaho, Montana and Utah this year — until last weekend when a new TV spot started airing on a handful of Nebraska stations.
Paid for by Alliance for Taxpayers, the TV spot states that expanding Medicaid would take resources from those already eligible for Medicaid services while also reducing funding for education, infrastructure and other programs.
It also claims Medicaid expansion would mean “hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes” for Nebraskans, but provides no citation. Initiative backers point to a study by the Legislative Fiscal Office estimating $1.3 billion in federal tax money returning to the state.
Many of the statements made in the Alliance for Taxpayers spot — which will air more than 260 times this week, according to available FCC records — were “laughable,” Mandy said: “It’s the same thing the opposition has been saying for the last six years on Medicaid expansion bills in the state.”
While Insure the Good Life has maintained a detailed list with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission of the individual and organization donors who contributed $1.7 million through Oct. 2 to its campaign, little is known about Alliance for Taxpayers.
Several state senators, all Republicans who penned an editorial encouraging voters to oppose Initiative 427, said they had never heard of the organization.
The group isn’t listed on the Accountability and Disclosure Commission website like previous committees formed around single ballot questions, such as Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and Retain a Just Nebraska.
A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, who contributed $300,000 of his own money to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Ricketts' campaign referred the question to an attorney who said he had not heard of the group, either.
Available records shedding more light on Alliance for Taxpayers are limited. The organization registered with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office to do business as a nonprofit limited liability corporation in the state on Oct. 11.
Records maintained by television stations show Alliance for Taxpayers worked to produce the ad with Optimus Consulting, an Alexandria, Virginia, firm that did some work for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty in 2016.
One of the FCC forms filed by Alliance for Taxpayers was signed by Marc Kaschke of Elkhorn, listing the same post office box listed on his consultant business website.
Kaschke, a former mayor of North Platte, along with Deanna Leyden of Lincoln and Dan Pauley of Hastings, were listed as board members of Alliance for Taxpayers on a separate FCC political disclosure form filed by several stations. None of the three board members responded to phone calls or emails seeking more information about the group’s history and activities.
On Tuesday, a former press secretary for the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association said Kaschke referred the Journal Star’s inquiry to her.
Gail Gitcho, a political strategist based in Boston, declined to say how Alliance for Taxpayers was funded, but said the organization would file the paperwork required by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
Under Nebraska statute, corporations, unions and LLCs organized and operating in Nebraska must report election spending within 10 days of the end of the month in with the expenditure took place, according to Frank Daley, the commission's executive director.
Because of how Nebraska law is structured, the group could wait to file its election spending report until nearly a week after Nebraskans decide the fate of Medicaid expansion.
Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska, who has lobbied lawmakers to strengthen the state’s campaign disclosure laws, said the secrecy behind Alliance for Taxpayers is the latest example of a broken system.
Two years ago, a Colorado-based organization called Trees of Liberty sent campaign mailers with false or misleading statements about incumbent state senators in five districts. Three of those senators lost in the 2016 election because of those efforts, Gould said.
“We’ve tried to deal with this — there are a lot of flaws in how entities disclose who is funding their operations — but we’ve gotten nowhere,” Gould said.
Mandy said Insure the Good Life has worked to be transparent for voters, filing regular reports with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission since it formed as a political committee in March.
Its biggest contributors include the Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports issues it says create economic fairness for voters, the ACLU of Nebraska, Service Employees International Union, Nebraska State Education Association and Planned Parenthood.
Mandy expressed disappointment Alliance for Taxpayers isn't as forthcoming about its donors.
“We’re being honest and transparent about who is giving us money, locally as well as nationally,” she said, “and we expect the same from the opposition.”
Update, 9:50 a.m., October 24: Gail Gitcho, an adviser to Alliance for Taxpayers, gave this comment in an email:
“The Alliance for Taxpayers has released an ad, which will be disseminated in multiple states, to educate taxpayers about the facts of Medicaid expansion. While we currently aren’t advocating for or against any specific ballot measures—despite what some news articles have suggested—we do believe that all taxpayers deserve to know the truth about Medicaid expansion and how it costs more than projected. In fact, in states that have expanded, enrollment and per enrollee spending are nearly 50% higher than predicted. Therefore, we are pleased to begin the process of educating and informing taxpayers across the nation about these important facts.”