Money in Politics – Part 1
By Kate High
The League of Women Voters of Nebraska has undertaken a study of Money in Politics in Nebraska examining the 2016 Nebraska Legislature election. Central findings from Part 1 of their report include:
- A record setting, $5,396,489 was raised by Legislative candidates, an average of $85,651 per candidate.
- Lobbyists reported $16,754,681 in expenses, another new record.
- In the 17 selected races in the general election, winners raised twice as much as their opponents. Winners tended to get their money from large donations primarily from non-individuals.
- Combining 2016 lobbying expenses and donations, $452,055 is the average amount per senator spent on the Unicameral to gain power and influence over the legislative process for just one year.
- Every politician loves to talk about all the small donations they receive, but the real money that pays for elections comes from big donors. In the 2016 Nebraska Legislature election, 70 percent of all money raised came from contributions $1000 or greater by just 526 donors, an average of just over $7000 per donor. The overwhelming majority of Nebraskans simply cannot afford to donate at this level.
- Other research has found “economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no influence.”
- “Dark Money” attack ads by shadowy non-profits were used against three Senators who had not voted to sustain three key vetoes by Governor Ricketts. Ricketts has past connections to these groups but donations to these groups are hidden from the public. Many have questioned if the Governor’s large donations to legislative candidates has become “Executive Encroachment.” How much is too much?
- Term limits increased the power of both political parties in the Unicameral. It is now considered the most rapidly polarizing legislature in the nation.
- Unlike most states, Nebraska has no limit on the amount and the source of campaign donations.
- Nebraska has a $250 “Black Hole.” Donations $250 or less cumulatively received in a calendar year are not itemized on campaign finance reports. In 2016, that amounted to 21 percent of all money raised, $1.1 million, by legislative candidates. That’s a lot of money to not know where it came from. Most states’ reporting threshold is considerably less. Nebraska with its “sky’s the limit,” no-limits on campaign donations has created a situation that has allowed Nebraska Statehouse politics to be monetized. The voice of Nebraska’s citizens makes up the “second house” of our Legislature, but in our highly monetized political environment, those without substantial wealth, now find themselves without voice, or rather a meaningful voice that actually affects policy making at a serious level.
Every day, hardworking Nebraskans who were entrusted to be the state’s “second house” have lost their place in the legislative process.
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