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Posts from the ‘State politics’ Category


Governor on HHS child welfare audit: “This is going to be fixed”

Gov. Dave Heineman has finally said something regarding the scathing state audit of his department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reform child welfare in Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman

He chose KLIN’s “Drive Time Lincoln” as the venue for his reaction, telling host Coby Mach, “This is going to be fixed.”

He said it’s about children and families and so, “We have to.” However, he said the state will continue to plow forward with partial privatization of the child welfare system, despite State Auditor Mike Foley’s audit, which was critical of the reform, which has increased costs 27 percent. He said Nebraska won’t return to the “failed policies of the last decade.”

“Nobody wants to go back to the old system,” Heineman said, even though he acknowledged that it “hasn’t gone as well as we wanted.”

The governor said he has met with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, HHS head Kerry Winterer and the lead Kansas-based contractor, KVC, about the audit but said the it’s not just about the state department, but also courts, law enforcement and providers. He said he asked Kelly for suggestions as to how to improve the system and knows “we need more contacts” with KVC. He also said he was disappointed in some of the private contractors, specifically the Boys and Girls Home’s failure to pay subcontractors.

But he also characterized the problems as inherent in making cultural changes. Heineman declined to address some of the specific problems cited in the audit, such as underqualified employees. He said he won’t micromanage HHS and will let the department head deal with those issues.

Asked about the flap over the fact that the governor received the report after the media, Heineman said he didn’t want to rehash that issue — and then did so anyway, saying his office is only 50 feet from Foley’s and he’s surprised Foley didn’t call him or his chief of staff if he was having problems getting cooperation from HHS in the audit.

“But I don’t want to go there,” Heineman said.


Dems say Bruning failed to disclose Nelnet cabin to state

The state Democratic Party filed a complaint today alleging Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning failed to properly disclose his part ownership of a $675,000 Ashland cabin to the state.

Jon Bruning

Office holders and candidates must disclose ownership of real estate to the state Accountability & Disclosure Commission — and Bruning has not reported his ownership of a cabin he bought with two Nelnet executives in 2008 on any of the annual A&D reports he must file. However, he did list the LLC that he and the Nelnet executives formed to buy the property in 2008 and 2010, but not 2009.

The purchase of the cabin is a “clear conflict of interest” — a year prior, Bruning tried to waive a $1 million settlement with Nelnet, but backed down after getting heat because he received campaign contributions from the Lincoln student loan company and its administrators — said Brandon Lorenz, communications director for the state Democratic Party. He alleged that Bruning was either negligent or trying to cover up the cabin purchase by not listing it on the state financial disclosure forms.

The Democrats also said Bruning failed to list the addresses of businesses he is associated with and sources of any income he earns on the A&D forms.

Bruning has been under scrutiny in recent weeks since his federal financial disclosure forms revealed he has become a multimillionaire since beginning his political career about 15 years ago.

Bruning’s campaign manager, Trent Fellers, attended the Democrats’ press conference this morning and afterward said it was nothing more than U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and the Democrats trying to divert attention from his votes on “big government spending and Obamacare.” He noted that Nelson is spending $200,000 on TV advertising already — 14 months before he is up for re-election.

“I think it just goes to show how scared they are to lose this race,” Fellers said.


And now it’s Ben’s turn to be bashed

Apparently tiring of all the negative press swirling around one of their top candidates for the U.S. Senate, the Nebraska Republican Party put out this video today (only online, for now):

Obviously they think they can ride the Cornhusker Kickback issue all the way to Congress. Do you think they’re right?


Governor declines to defend Bruning

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.


Bruning and the stock market: Love it or hate it?

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.

Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning

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.)

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson

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. 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.


Bruning’s finances went from “scary” to multi-millionaire as public official

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.

Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning

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.


Bruning and Nelnet sittin’ in a tree… c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t?

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?


Stenberg says spending doubled under Bruning’s reign

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.

State Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Don Stenberg

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).


Dems accuse Bruning of pocketing millions rather than doing his “day job”

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.

Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning reported assets of between $12.6 million to $61.3 million.

The state Democratic Party bought this ad that refers readers to this website, and accuse Bruning of a litany of transgressions — most of which I’ve never heard before. Among them:

• 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.