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December 6, 2010

3

“Stupid, easy to push around, or both”

by Deena Winter


A recent Journal Star editorial lambasted a Virginia group for “pouring thousands of dollars into attack ads” in the November election and then refusing to report their campaign expenditures, claiming their campaign was “purely educational” since they didn’t urge a vote for or against a certain candidate.
This made me wonder where the editorial writers were earlier this year, when Vision 2015ers were pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the University of Nebraska Foundation’s UNF Charitable Fund, which spent about $200,000 on radio and TV ads supporting passage of the arena project.
They, too, claimed it was an “educational campaign,” but if you saw those ads with Tom Osborne, I think it was pretty clear which way T.O. wanted you to pull the lever.
It was a circuitous way to get their message across, but it also enabled Vision 2015ers donate money to the pro-arena campaign in a way that made it impossible to know who donated how much. And the beauty of it all was that since the money was going into a “charitable fund,” all those donations were tax-deductible.
To quote from the Journal Star editorial, about the Virginia group: “That robs Nebraskans of the opportunity to find out what sort of people are trying to influence their vote.”
Several accountants contacted me questioning the legality of a nonprofit “charity” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote a ballot question. Some complained to Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has authority over non-profits, but he certainly had a conflict of interest in the matter, since he was promoting the arena all over the airwaves. (Remember those heart-warming nonpartisan ads with Bruning and Beutler?)
When Bruning participated in a pro-arena press conference toward the end of the campaign, I asked him about what he’d done in response to those complaints about the UNF Charitable Fund. He said he’d never heard about them, but promised that if any violations were found, he’d do something about it regardless of his personal support for the arena.
“I call it like I see it,” he told me. “The law is the law.”
A few days later, he emailed me to say that it was more of an IRS issue.
But you didn’t read about any of that in the Journal Star. Why? The editor said it wasn’t important enough to write about before the election.
That’s one of those moments where a reporter does her best to fight for a story, and then bites her tongue til it bleeds. Because I was not stupid, or easy to push around. Or both.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Roger Yant
    Dec 6 2010

    Good story Deena. Don’t you just love the way everyone covers their butt when it comes time to answer tough questions? Keep it up.

    Reply
  2. Terry Sloan
    Dec 6 2010

    I have to disagree Deena. There’s a big difference between the positive ad campaign for the Arena and what it can do for Lincoln and the trashy mail that was incredibly negative personal attacks against Danielle Conrad and Amanda Mcgill. One had Mcgill grimacing, looking like a witch for Halloween, they mentioned Conrad’s DWI repeatedly, and their legislative records were lied about and distorted.

    Having read your article I agree that your not stupid, and I think you wouldn’t be so quick to defend AFP if you saw all of the garbage that was hitting mailboxes in Northeast Lincoln.

    Reply
  3. scott wendt
    Dec 6 2010

    Good article. The money run through the UNL Charitable fund fund wasn’t only for the arena but any of a number of 2015 projects including the “P Street Retail Corridor”. Any business or, perhaps more importantly, foundation could funnel money through the foundation to any specific project they had a financial interest in without any disclosure. This would not only be tax deductible but would shield a non-profit from violating “self-dealing” laws.

    Reply

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