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Friday, July 07, 2006

Nebraska Pol Booted From Office for Campaign Finance Violations

The Nebraska Supreme Court has convicted Regent Dave Hergert on impeachment charges related to violating the state's campaign laws and lying to cover it up, as WOWT of Omaha reports. With today's ruling, Hergert is immediately removed from office.

In order to level the playing field for candidates whose positions aren't backed by wealthy interests, Nebraska offers candidates the option of receiving some public money for their campaigns, if they agree to a voluntary spending cap. Candidates whose opponents exceed the spending cap get public funds with which to compete.

For the system to work, candidates who opt to exceed the spending caps must estimate their projected spending and inform the relevant state commission when they reach a certain spending threshold, so that the commission may disburse funds to their opponent.

Hergert opted out of the program, choosing to exceed the overall spending limit of $50,000 (for both primary and general). But, he underestimated how much he would exceed the limit and failed to notify the commission when he did so, which had the effect of depriving his opponent of some of the public funds to which he was entitled. Hergert spent much of the under-reported money attacking his opponent, who because he did not receive the funds, was unable to respond effectively.

After the election, Hergert reported spending twice his original estimate. In other words, he broke the law and lied about it in order to win the election.

Recognizing the potential damage to the public financing program that would occur if Hergert's
actions went unpunished, the Legislature first called on him to resign, and ultimately impeached him. Today's conviction by the Supreme Court was the last step of the process.

Nebraska candidates who don't represent positions with the backing of wealthy interests deserve just as much a shot at public office as those that do. Today's decision by the state Supreme Court helps maintain that opportunity, leaving democracy in Nebraska a stronger institution tomorrow than it was yesterday.

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