Former Gov. Heineman Disputes Republican Party Finance Report

July 10, 2020, 3:54 p.m. ·

Cover of Nebraska Republican Party's latest campaign finance report (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Former Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, is disputing the latest report from the Nebraska Republican Party about spending on a race where Heineman and current Republican Governor Pete Ricketts are supporting different candidates.

The race at the center of the controversy is in southeast Nebraska’s District One, pitting Sen. Julie Slama, appointed to fill a vacancy by Gov. Pete Ricketts, against Janet Palmtag, a longtime Republican Party worker supported by Heineman.

Originally, the Nebraska Republican Party reported spending $66,000 to support Slama in the form of “in-kind contributions.” But Slama didn’t disclose the contributions on her report, leading to a complaint by Palmtag’s campaign.

Now, the Republican Party has changed its report to show the $66,000 as “independent expenditures.” Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission Executive Director Frank Daley described the legal difference, using an example. Here’s how he describes an independent expenditure:

“A corporation, say, places an ad in a newspaper expressing its support for a candidate. It does not request permission from the candidate. It doesn’t seek input or approval from the candidate as to the text of the ad. The corporation reports the independent expenditure, but the candidate does not,” Daley said.

And here’s how Daley described an in-kind contribution:

“Well, let us take our newspaper example again. However in this case, the entity or person making the contribution consults with the candidate about the text of the ad or the timing of the ad or things of that nature. In that case you have an in-kind contribution. And that contribution is reported both by the corporation or entity making the contribution, and by the candidate as well,” he said.

Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Ryan Hamilton said the party believes its contributions to Slama were categorized improperly in its original report, and that’s why it was changed.

But Heineman doesn’t believe it. He says Jessica Flanagain, a political consultant with Axiom Strategies, both works for Slama’s campaign and was responsible for a Nebraska Republican Party mailer critical of Palmtag, suggesting the spending by the Republican Party should have been categorized as an in-kind contribution which Slama’s campaign should have reported.

“It’s inconceivable to believe this was an independent expenditure. Jessica Flanagain directed and coordinated the Nebraska Republican Party’s negative attack ads on Janet Palmtag,” Heineman said.

Those ads included a mailer with a photo of Palmtag juxtaposed with one of Black independent state senator Ernie Chambers and accusing her of siding with “liberals, atheists, & extremists.” Palmtag denied the charges, and the flier was condemned as racist by both Heineman, a Republican, and former Gov. and Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat.

Hamilton, the party’s executive director, declined to answer NET News’ questions about whether there was coordination between the party and Slama’s campaign. But in an article in the June 30 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star, Hamilton is reported as saying he in fact was responsible for the content of the mailing after consulting with Flanagain.

Flanagain declined to get into details of her work, but said there’s no prohibition in Nebraska law against the same vendor working for a party and a campaign. She also suggested Heineman is being inconsistent in his criticism.

“When he was running for governor in 2006 against Tom Osborne and I was executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, he certainly didn’t have any problem with campaigns coordinating closely with the state party, because he directed a lot of our day-to-day activity,” Flanagain said.

Ricketts was asked about the dispute at a news conference Friday. He said he didn’t know the details of the campaign finance controversy, but defended the party.

“I’m sure the Republican Party is doing the right thing. The Republican Party can coordinate with candidates. There’s no problem with doing that. And everything that the Republican Party did to be able to make sure we got a conservative like Julie Slama… through her primary and to get her elected in November is absolutely appropriate,” Ricketts said.

And Ricketts heaped praise on Flanagain, his former campaign manager whom he still employs as a consultant.

“Jessica’s the best in the business here in Nebraska. That’s why I hire her,” he said.

Dan Parsons, a consultant with Palmtag’s campaign, said the campaign is evaluating its next move.