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A Nebraska Watchdog reporter asked Gov. Dave Heineman what he thought of the whole Jon Bruning brouhaha — and Heineman was surprisingly silent about whether he thinks Bruning is being unfairly maligned.
You know, the brouhaha about how our attorney general somehow has gone from selling off cars and commuting with his wife in an old car to becoming a public servant who now, about 15 years later, reports between $13 million and $61 million in assets on a form required for U.S. Senate candidates. And the one where Bruning decided it was OK to buy a $675,000 “cabin” with two Nelnet executives just a year after getting into hot water for trying to waive a $1 million settlement with Nelnet — whose execs just so happened to have made tidy contributions to his campaign.
The Watchdog reporter asked Heineman whether Bruning has “been on the up and up” — and you might expect Bruning’s fellow Republican to vouch for him, but he did not. Instead, he said, “That’s for the voters ultimately to decide. That’s what primaries are all about. I think there’s going to be a healthy discussion and there should be.”
Now I know Bruning endorsed Tom Osborne for governor rather than Heineman, but still.
This story just isn’t going away quietly, is it? Today, the Lincoln Journal Star — which has gotten slaughtered by the Omaha World-Herald on this story — did some cleanup by interviewing Bruning about the whole thing. Interestingly, Bruning’s take was that his wealth has been exaggerated and his net worth is probably closer to $3 million to $4 million.
Financial disclosure forms he filled out list his assets as between $13 million and $61 million — but he also listed $7 million to $35 million in liabilities.
Attorney General Jon Bruning just can’t seem to keep his story straight lately.
Last week he told the Omaha World Herald that he made “a lot of money” at his first job out of law school working for Vital Learning Corp. in Omaha — and then made even more money by investing money in the stock market in the early 1990s.
Here’s what the World-Herald reported:
He said he then made more money by investing in the robust markets of the 1990s. “I was able to successfully invest that money in the stock market in the early 1990s,” he said.
But then during a radio show on Monday morning, Bruning seemed to contradict himself when he told KFAB that while a lot of people invest in Wall Street, he prefers to invest in Nebraska companies he can “see and touch.”
“I hate Wall Street,” he said. “I’d rather invest here in Nebraska… rather than send it out to New York… which is basically a big casino.”
And while some of Bruning’s investments are in Nebraska — chiefly, his investment in a bank holding company that owns three Nebraska banks — he also has chosen to invest outside of Nebraska, in a storage facility in Iowa and a retirement company in Kansas City.
Seems Bruning is having trouble keeping his story straight: Even though last week he told the World-Herald he made a lot of money off Wall Street, this week he says he hates Wall Street, which is a big casino. And even though he says he prefer to invest in Nebraska companies, he has invested in out-of-state companies.
All of which shows why it’s good to stick to the script. (Bruning’s campaign, by the way, has declined to comment on any of this to me.)And while we’re on the topic of Bruning’s wealth, let us not forget that the incumbent everyone is trying to dethrone — U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson — is a very wealthy man, too. Opensecrets.org estimates he is worth between $8 million and $16.6 million. Their data makes it clear Nelson invests in all kinds of stocks, too.
If reporters decide to look more closely into Bruning’s assets and investments, they’ll have a lot of digging to do on Nelson, too.
If you like the meat Hollenbeck Farms sells at the Farmers’ Market, you’ll probably like hearing that they’ve opened up a permanent retail store in Lincoln.
Crave sells burgers in the $6 to $8 range, plus fries. HF Crave actually had a soft (quiet, to avoid being overwhelmed) opening on Aug. 17 in their new location at 28th and Pine Lake Road — between Chipotle and Noodles.
Hollenbeck’s cattle are bred, fed and raised on an Elmwood family farm that dates to 1901. They do not use growth hormones, steroids or antibiotics and their cattle free-range graze on pastures. They also sell lamb and pork.
In trying to explain why his financial disclosure forms indicate he’s a multimillionaire, Attorney General Jon Bruning now says he got rich in the roaring 1990s — but he wasn’t singing that tune early on in his political career.
As a young state senator, he was telling the Daily Nebraskan what a financial sacrifice he’d made to become a public servant. He told the college newspaper he gave up his lawyer’s salary to run for the Legislature.
The DN wrote:
He will earn just $12,000 this year, a substantial pay cut he accepted for the chance to have an impact on state government. To further squeeze his finances, Bruning and his wife, Deonne, are expecting a child in April– a girl, the couple recently learned following an ultrasound test. Although Bruning admits his situation is “scary” at times, he said his sacrifices are worthwhile.
He also told the DN how he and his lawyer wife had sold his Ford Explorer to cut expenses and were commuting to Lincoln in a 1991 Mercury Sable with 80,000 miles on it (!). And yet, this record indicates he bought a $298,000 Omaha house in 1997 — just a few years out of law school.
But these days, Bruning is busy talking about how well he did investing in the 1990s to explain why his financial disclosure forms indicate he’s got assets of between $12 million and $61 million. Here’s what he told the Omaha World-Herald recently:
He also says he was “incredibly fortunate” as a young man out of law school to land a sales position at Vital Learning Corp. of Omaha, which sells personal-training programs to businesses. He says he made a “lot of money” at the company, although he declined to say exactly how much.
He said he then made more money by investing in the robust markets of the 1990s. “I was able to successfully invest that money in the stock market in the early 1990s,” he said.
Why did Lake McConaughy get a $42,000 federal terrorism-fighting grant? And why did Cherry County get thousands of dollars in federal Homeland Security dollars to protect cows?
Find out by reading this interesting story in the Los Angeles Times, called Is Homeland Security spending paying off?.
The Omaha World-Herald has a heckuva story today on Attorney General Jon Bruning’s cozy relationship with Nelnet — so cozy that he and two Nelnet executives bought a $675,000 lake “cabin” near Ashland together in 2008.
The story is incredible.
Where’s the Journal Star on this and other Bruning bombshells this week?
State Treasurer Don Stenberg is joining state Democrats in hammering Attorney General Jon Bruning for presiding over an office whose budget has nearly doubled in his eight years at the helm.
The state Democratic Party bought full-page newspaper ads this week to cajole Bruning for a myriad of perceived transgressions, including the growth of his department’s budget by what they said was 81 percent.
Today Stenberg jumped on the bandwagon, tweeting that “after crunching the numbers,” he discovered Bruning’s budget has actually increased 96 percent — rising from $4.94 million when Stenberg left to a $9.7 million appropriation this year.
Stenberg helpfully tweeted a chart that indicates when he was attorney general from 1991 to 2003, spending only increased 34 percent, for an average annual increase of 3 percent. That compares to an average annual increase of 12 percent under Bruning. So there.
Way to get your Tweet on, Stenberg! (whose Twitter profile describes him as a “genuine, lifelong conservative” candidate… yes, that was a dig at you, Bruning).
Yesterday, the Democrats went after Attorney General Jon Bruning hard, but of all the charges they leveled at him, one thing really jumped out at me: Their contention that he is a multimillionaire with so many business investments that it’s hard to believe he has time to serve as attorney general.
This astounded me, because Bruning has pretty much been a public servant since graduating college. And while his wife is a lawyer, the amount of assets Bruning says he has is serious coin.
So I got my hands on the document the Dems based their numbers on: Bruning’s U.S. Senate financial disclosure reports from 2007 and 2011. Interesting reading, those.
Indeed, Bruning reported he earned between $286,940 and $1.3 million last year — not counting the $100,000 to $1 million his wife earned. He also reported between $4.6 million and $18.2 million in assets in 2007 – when he first took a shot at the U.S. Senate. This year, he reported assets of between $13 million and $62.3 million.
Why such a broad range of figures? Because candidates just report their income in broad figures. For example, Bruning reported his investment in Cornhusker Road, LLC, a self-storage company in Bellevue is worth between $5 million and $25 million. He also reported his interest in another self-storage company in Des Moines worth between $1 million and $5 million and a bank holding company (which owns several rural Nebraska banks) worth $5 million to $25 million.
“While the rest of us were suffering through the collapse of 2008, his investments quadrupled,” said Vic Covalt, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “I wish I could get someone to give me a piece of that kind of action. It sure didn’t happen that way for the rest of us.”
Suddenly Bruning’s regular income as attorney general seems pretty paltry, at at a mere $95,000 a year.
However, what the Dems didn’t mention is that Bruning also reported millions of dollars in liabilities, ranging from $7.25 million to $35 million.
Now I don’t begrudge anybody the right to make a good living and invest their money wisely – but it sure looks like Bruning’s investments tripled between 2007 and 2011.
Covalt said he’d like to know what Bruning’s initial investments were, who were the “buddies” he relied upon, who did they work for and whether there’s any connection between his position as attorney general and the “extraordinary good fortune he has experienced.”
In addition, the financial disclosure statements show Bruning has held positions with more than two dozen banks, LLCs and private business entities. A sampling of them: Redworld, LLC, Retirement Equity Investors, LLC, Frontier Holdings, LLC, Cornhusker Road, LLC, Green Jacket Capital, LLC, Flatrock LLC.
And in almost every case, he began serving on those boards since being elected attorney general in 2002.
And while I was snooping around in Bruning’s business, I figured I may as well take a look at the much less detailed reports required by Nebraska. Those reports don’t detail the value of his assets like the Senate report, but they still contain some interesting tidbits.
I find it most fun to read those reports in chronological order, because you can see how Bruning’s stature (if not bank account) grew with each passing year as a public servant. Way back in 1996, when he was just a lowly state senator, he reported only income from that and consulting for Vital Learning Corp. of Omaha and his wife’s job as a telecommunications attorney for the PSC.
By 1999, he was reporting just two business associations (a member of Bruning Holdings LLC and limited partner in Panther Network, LLC, a service partnership).
In 2002, he reported his investment in Cornhusker Road, that storage company. By 2003, when he was attorney general, his investments had expanded to five LLCs. In 2004, he became chairman of the board of Frontier Bank and added another LLC.
By 2006, he was reporting investments or involvement in 16 LLCs.
I also find it interesting to see how much more traveling and golfing public servants do as their stature increases (these trips are reported to the state as “gifts” and are just a sampling of the perks that come with public service):
• In 1999, Bruning took a 13-day trip to Argentina and Uruguay, compliments of the American Council of Young Political Leaders.
• In 2002, the China Youth Corps provided meals and lodging for a five-day trip to Taiwan and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. paid for a seven-day trip to Spain.
• In 2003, the U.S.-Israel Friendship League treated him to a trip to Israel and his old college roommate began treating him to annual golfing trips out East.
• By 2005, he is being treated to rounds of golf in Arizona, flights and lodging to Georgia and Michigan and a trip to Colorado, compliments of the Aspen Institute. The chairman emeritus of Kiewit paid for a flight to Alliance, Neb. Oh, and he got another trip to Israel.
• In 2006, he began receiving complimentary “event tickets” from a mortgage company, the Recording Industry of America and Bacardi USA. Lots of free golfing, and video games from the Entertainment and Software Association.
• In 2007, the Aspen Institute paid for a trip to Asia and the Middle East. A Lincoln developer bought him a trip to Arizona. David Sokol, CEO of MidAmerican Energy, paid for a trip to Georgia. Time, Inc., was kind enough to buy him a round of golf and he was a Pro-Am participant in a Nike Golf Tour. He even reported that the President of the United States provided transportation from Washington, D.C., to Nebraska on Air Force One.
• In 2008, the Kurdistan Regional Government paid for a trip to Iraq. A Lincoln builder bought him a trip to Arizona. And several golf outings.
• In 2009, the Renaissance Hotel provided free lodging in D.C. The Center for Alcohol Policy provided a trip to Illinois.
• In 2010, Home Depot gave him “event tickets,” the University of Nebraska Foundation provided lodging and golf and the America-Israel Friendship League paid for another trip to Israel.
All of which makes his recent comparison of welfare recipients to raccoons scavenging for beetles seem even more “inartful.”
While this is just a snapshot of Bruning’s finances, the Omaha World-Herald has obviously been looking into his business dealings for some time, as they have a nice story today on the same topic. Check it out.
State Democrats are going after Attorney General Jon Bruning with guns blazing: They bought ads in the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald accusing Bruning of basically being a slackard attorney general while making millions on the side.
• Bruning’s AG budget has grown 81 percent during the past 8 years; faster than the pace federal spending has increased.
• Since 2007, Bruning has tripled the value of his personal non-publicly traded assets from a range of $4.3 million to $17.8 million in 2007 to a range of $12.6 million to $61.3 million in 2011, according to his financial disclosure statements. Dems ask where he found the time to do that while serving as AG.
• While serving as AG, Bruning has held positions on at least 24 different banks, private businesses, and LLCs — not counting personal trusts and non-profit foundations. “No wonder he doesn’t have time for his day job,” the Dems said.
• Bruning “completely forgot” about a pending felony case, and the judge was forced to dismiss it. (Lincoln Journal Star 6/14/11).
• Bruning “botched” the acquisition of lethal drugs needed for the execution of a convicted murderer and “then tried to cover up his mistakes,” costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. (Lincoln Journal Star 7/13/11)
• Bruning has accepted at least $62,000 worth of gifts and trips to at least seven foreign countries, numerous rounds of golf and free tickets to sporting events.
What’s interesting to me about these allegations is that the most surprising of them — that he’s got those kind of assets — I’ve never seen documented by a newspaper. Shame on newspapers for completely missing the story. It’s always embarrassing when political operatives uncover stories that reporters ought to be getting.
In addition to the $95,000 annual salary he draws as Nebraska attorney general, Bruning reported earning $57,500 in income from his interest Frontier Holdings, the bank holding company, and $4,440 in income from a holding company called Green Jacket Capital, which sold its minor investments last year in medical aesthetics companies.
According to Bruning’s U.S. Senate financial disclosure report, he has millions of dollars in assets from investments in everything from 50 percent interest in Omaha and Des Moines storage companies to 15 percent interest in a bank holding company that owns three rural Nebraska banks. The most lucrative reported was his interest in a company that owns banks in Davenport, Madison and Pender, Neb. He also reported interest in a company that owns retirement homes in Kansas City, Austin, Texas and Round Rock, Texas.
And many of those investments appear to have been made since he was elected attorney general in 2002.
While Bruning reported millions in assets, he also reported a few million in debts, according to the statements I reviewed.
Bruning’s campaign manager, Trent Fellers, released this statement in response to the ads: “Ben Nelson’s votes for ObamaCare and big government spending just don’t align with Nebraska values, and neither do his politics. These desperate actions show just how out of touch Ben Nelson and his political machine are with Nebraska voters, who time and time again have rejected dirty politics like this. As sad as these actions are, they are predictable and we expect more of them. Ben Nelson and the Washington establishment backing him are focused on Jon because they must be hearing the same thing Jon hears as he travels the state — Nebraskans are disappointed with Ben Nelson’s style of politics and are demanding new leadership, and Jon is poised to provide that leadership next November.”
You’ll notice Fellers did not address any of the issues raised in the ads. I’ve asked him how Bruning made so much money since he’s been a public servant most of his career; I’m waiting for a response.
I’ve been trying for awhile to determine whether the arena project is on time or not — after a construction bidder pointed out to me that bidding documents made it appear the project is three or four months behind schedule.
However, project coordinator Dan Marvin insisted to me that the project is on schedule. And the mayor certainly has repeatedly said the project is on schedule. So I’ve been taking them at their word. And I’ve been keeping my eye on one major milestone coming: The date they said they would actually begin construction of the arena itself.
That date was set for Sept. 16, 2011. And guess what? Looks like they’re on target for that, because a true groundbreaking for the arena is scheduled for Sept. 15 (weather permitting). Now, I’m not naive enough to thinks reporters can’t be easily snowed, and we’ll all know for sure when September 2013 rolls around whether this baby is coming in on time. (Or should I say coming out?)