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Reining in Money in Nebraska Politics

Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, I-Omaha, plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit candidates from transferring campaign donations to other candidates. (Hollywata/Flicker)
Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, I-Omaha, plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit candidates from transferring campaign donations to other candidates. (Hollywata/Flicker)
January 17, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. – It's been nine years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark Citizens United decision, and grassroots groups in Nebraska are still struggling to limit the influence of money in politics.

Jack Gould, issues chairman for the advocacy group Common Cause Nebraska, says the ruling has opened up the floodgates for so-called dark money, anonymous and unlimited contributions made through third party groups, to tilt U.S. elections.

"It seems as if people who have money get to speak louder and more often than people who don't have money, which doesn't sound very much like the democratic process," he states.

The 2010 Supreme Court decision, citing previous rulings, held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government cannot limit corporations from spending money to influence the outcome of elections.

Overturning the court's ruling would require a constitutional amendment, and Gould notes his group and others are engaged in a 50-state campaign to do just that.

Gould says incremental steps also are important, and points to a new bill sponsored by state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha to be introduced in the current legislative session that would prohibit candidates from transferring campaign donations to other candidates.

Gould maintains the practice limits the ability of small donors to impact elections and, ultimately, policy.

"When people are giving a candidate money, they are also getting that candidate's ear,” he points out. “It's still one man, one vote, but you're giving access or greater influence to those who are giving the most. And that hurts our democracy."

Gould says he hopes the ninth anniversary of the Citizens United decision will move more Nebraskans to join efforts to blunt the influence of money in politics.

"People need to start putting pressure on candidates – not only at the state level, but also at the federal level – letting them know that their voices need to be heard, and that they're concerned about the fact that big money is speaking louder than their $20 donation," he stresses.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE