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Electioneering reporting bill stalls

A bill that would require reporting of electioneering activity under the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act failed to advance from select file April 14.

LB606, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, would require a person who makes an electioneering communication in the amount of more than $250 to file a report with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

An electioneering communication is defined as any communication that:

  • refers to a clearly identified candidate;
  • is publicly distributed in the 30 days before an election; and
  • is directed to the electorate of the office sought by the clearly identified candidate.

The definition would not include a contribution or expenditure, communication by the media, a candidate debate or a communication by a membership organization to its members.

Under the bill, a corporation, labor organization or business association making an electioneering communication with a value of more than $250 would be required to file a report disclosing the date, nature and value of the communication and the name, address, occupation, employer and principal place of business of each person who contributed more than $250 to the communication.

A report would have to be filed within 10 days.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist offered an amendment during select file debate that would have removed a requirement that organization members be defined as those who have paid a fee or submitted a written document indicating intent to be a member. He said the bill as written would allow some groups but not others to engage in electioneering without being required to report their activities.

“This amendment would ensure that all membership organizations are treated equitably under LB606,” Krist said.

Avery opposed the amendment, saying it would create a “gaping loophole” in the bill’s reporting requirements.

Avery said the reporting exception was written narrowly to prevent organizations with a defined membership from being caught up in electioneering reporting requirements when they communicate information to their members. Failing to specify how membership is defined would open the exception to abuse, he said.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha expressed concern that churches and other religious organizations could be required to report activities such as advising their congregations about elected officials’ positions on issues of concern to them.

“Under the definition set forth in this bill, we would be targeting churches,” he said.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello disagreed, calling discussion of the bill’s potential impact on churches “disingenuous.” Churches and other religious organizations are not allowed to engage in electioneering activity under current federal law, he said.

“If they are engaging in political activity, they are breaking the law,” Mello said.

The Krist amendment failed on a 24-14 vote, one vote short of adoption.

Omaha Sen. John Nelson offered an amendment that would have required the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to promulgate rules and regulations regarding electioneering in accordance with federal election law.

Avery opposed the amendment, saying Nebraska should develop its own election law based on local needs.

“LB606 is a law that we ought to interpret ourselves,” he said.

The Nelson amendment failed on a 15-16 vote and the bill failed to advance to final reading on a vote of 20-7.

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