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.