Registered Nebraska political action committees contributed about $2 million to Nebraska state and local candidates’ campaigns in the 2012 elections, with the biggest single chunk -- more than a half-million dollars -- coming from the state teachers PAC, according to the campaign filings with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
More than 100 PACs are registered in the state. About 82 contributed to Nebraska candidates in the 2012 races state and local offices.
The Nebraska State Education Association PAC (NSEA PAC) proved to be the key contributor in 2012, contributing about $562,000 to candidate campaigns.
Of that, the NSEA PAC contributed nearly $368,000 to support candidates running for the Nebraska Legislature.
Nancy Fulton, the president of the 28,000-member NSEA, said the organization sends questionnaires developed by its government relations committee to every candidate, focusing on the candidate’s views on education.
The government relations committee is comprised of more than 50 members, representing each legislative district, she said.
Once the questionnaires are answered, a small committee of NSEA members from the candidate’s district interviews each candidate and recommends how much to contribute to the candidate’s campaign, Fulton said.
Based on the recommendation, the NSEA board of directors considers the campaign’s financial need and determines how much money the PAC will contribute, Fulton said.
“It’s very member driven,” Fulton said.
Fulton added that the NSEA’s policy is that its contributions cannot exceed 49 percent of the candidates’ campaign finances for legislative races.
She said that the organization never comes close to funding that much of a campaign for those running for the Legislature.
According to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commissions campaign filings, the NSEA PAC last year gave nearly $213,000 to candidates who won the election and about $155,000 to candidates who lost.
Two of the PAC’s biggest contributions went to Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who received about $42,000 from the NSEA for his campaign, and Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha, whose campaign received about $48,000 from the NSEA.
Both Haar and Kolowski serve on the Legislature’s Education Committee.
Money that the NSEA uses for campaign contributions comes from a portion of the NSEA dues that are set aside specifically for political actions funds, Fulton said.
If a member doesn’t want to pay that portion, it might be refunded, but Fulton said that rarely happens.
She said contributing to campaigns is “the beginning step in building a relationship” with candidates, opening a dialogue about the legislation that may emerge during the session.
The NSEA led PACs in campaign contributions in 2012, with the Nebraskans for Responsible Government PAC second with a total of about $121,000 in contributions.
The Nebraskans for Responsible Government PAC is an independent group, receiving funds from a number of different groups, including the NSEA, several labor union PACs, the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys PAC and Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska PAC.
The NSEA PAC gave Nebraskans for Responsible Government PAC about $62,500 last year – the largest contribution to the NRG.
In contrast to the NSEA PAC, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce PAC contributed the least money in 2012, giving $20 to candidate campaigns for Nebraska races.
The commission defines a PAC as any group that uses funds to persuade people for or against candidates in an election.
In Nebraska, a PAC can be funded either by a corporation, which can get donations from members of the corporation, or independent, funded by anyone who wishes to contribute money.
In western Nebraska
Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis was the biggest individual contributor to his own campaign, putting in $2,400 out of 20 contributors. He raked in about $71,000 during the campaign and spent about $66,000 of that. The Nebraska State Education Association PAC was the biggest single contributor to his campaign, at about $16,000. By the end of the filing period, Davis’ campaign committee owed him about $15,000.
Davis defeated John W. Ravenscroft of Nenzel, winning about 52 percent of the vote. Ravenscroft received about $82,000 and spent about $81,000. He was the biggest individual contributor to his campaign, putting in $15,300.
Davis’ campaign had several individual contributors from members of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, including current president David Wright of Neligh giving $1,000. Davis is a former member of the board of directors of the organization. Ravenscroft received $600 from the Nebraska Cattlemen, a different organization.
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala received about $36,000 and spent about $29,000 during his 2012 reelection campaign, which he ran unopposed.
Peter McClymont of Lincoln was the biggest and only individual having to report contributions to Schilz’ campaign committee, giving $500. The biggest non-individual contributor was Everson Operating Company, Inc., an energy exploration company with its main office in Kimball, giving $5,000.
Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney received about $91,000 and spent about $53,000 during his 2012 campaign. His biggest contributor was the Nebraska State Education Association PAC, which contributed a total of $11,500.
Hadley beat Josiah H. Woodward of Kearney by about 4 percent of the votes. Woodward received about $26,000 and spent all of that during his 2012 campaign. He invested about $22,000 of his own money in his campaign.
Demetria Stephens, Bethany Knipp and Joseph Moore of the Nebraska News Service contributed to this report.