Unspent campaign funds could be returned to donors, donated to charity, or transferred to a political party, under original provisions of the state's Political Accountability and Disclosure Act.
According to Frank Daley, executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, the “absolute prohibition” of candidates transferring funds to other candidates was intended to prevent newly elected officials from becoming beholden to an official with deep pockets.
The law was later changed to allow for the use of campaign funds to purchase tickets to fundraisers for other candidates, opening an ever-widening loophole since 1980, Daley said.
“So what occurred was more and more people were transferring large amounts of money, but it was for a fundraising event which was in the confines of the statute,” Daley told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
“Rather than just buying a ticket, now I’m buying a table, and now I’m buying the gold admission that allows me to do five more things.”
A bill (LB817) by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers would restore the original intent of the accountability law by expressly prohibiting campaign committees from transferring unspent money to other candidates or contributing it toward a fundraising event for another candidate.
“To give a donation to a candidate is for that candidate,” Chambers told the committee. “They trust that person to fill that office. They are not saying, in my view, that they are trusting that candidate to substitute his will for their will.”
Chambers said he donated leftover campaign funds from a 1988 run for the U.S. Senate to the nonprofit Black Police Officers Association of Omaha, which the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission assured him was proper.
Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska told the committee that as much as $100,000 was spent by campaign committees on fundraisers for other candidates in the 2016 election cycle.
Gould said he would prefer lawmakers restore the original practice outlined in the Political Accountability and Disclosure Act of returning the campaign contribution, donating it to a nonprofit charity, or giving it to a political party instead of a preferred candidate.
Candidates who choose to hold onto the funds for future elections, or to seek other office, could still do so under the existing law, Daley said.