Nebraska Dems file ethics complaint against governor

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – The Nebraska Democratic Party has filed a complaint with a state ethics board alleging Gov. Dave Heineman violated the law by holding a news conference to announce he is applying for the job as president of the University of Nebraska.

COMPLAINT: Nebraska Democrats have filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Dave Heineman for holding a news conference Wednesday to announce that he has applied to be president of the University of Nebraska.

Heineman convened a news conference in his hearing room at the state Capitol for the sole purpose of informing the press of his plans. The governor is term-limited out of office at year’s end.

“Press accounts and documents clearly state that staff, stationary, public office space, social media and equipment were used in this announcement,” says the complaint to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. “NDP believes that the governor has used his office and resources of his office to apply for the presidency of the University of Nebraska and that this constitutes a violation of the statutes.”

The complaint was signed by Dan Marvin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

The complaint notes that the A&D previously fined a city administrator $1,000 for using his work email account to send two emails about a ballot issue from his home computer after work hours.

“These are premeditated, repeat violations using more than one staff person and taxpayer resources solely for the personal gain and financial benefit of Dave Heineman,” Marvin wrote.

The complaint alleges the governor used taxpayer dollars to pay staffers to set up a meeting with NU Regent Howard Hawks to discuss the presidency; drive him to the meeting; prepare an application letter to regents — written on official stationary — and plan and hold the conference.

“Employees were not doing the people’s work but were compelled to help the governor attempt to obtain a lucrative job,” the complaint says. “The trappings of the people’s office were used by the governor to increase the likelihood that he would be selected for a lucrative job paying more than four times his current salary.”

When asked during the news conference why he chose to publicly announce his plans to apply for the job, Heineman said because reporters often ask him about his plans for the future and he believes in government transparency. However, some people, including some members of the Board of Regents, saw his decision to go public as a deterrent to other potential job applicants.

A provision in the state Accountability & Disclosure Act prohibits public officials from using their office or government resources for personal financial gain, although there is an exception in the statute that allows incidental or trivial use of resources.

The governor currently earns $105,000 annually, while former NU President J.B. Milliken made nearly $421,000. In addition, the NU Foundation bought a $750,000, 7,000-square-foot Lincoln house for the university president.

Another statute says it’s a conflict of interest if taking an official action could result in financial benefit to the public official.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment but previously told the Omaha World-Herald that the Democrats’ complaints were politically motivated.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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