Donations to the Nebraska GOP fall sharply after contentious convention

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Donations to the Nebraska GOP appear to have taken a nosedive after the state’s controversial convention, which saw a near-complete exodus of the party establishment.

Since Congress on July 9, the state GOP has collected about $163,000 in contributions, according to recent filings with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and the Federal Election Commission, averaging about $55,000 per month . In the 12 months leading up to Congress, the party raised more than $1.6 million, averaging over $135,000 per month.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has outperformed the state’s GOP in recent months based solely on its most recent federal election filings, which show the party has received about $548,000 since July 9. The party’s latest state filings were not available.

The Nebraska GOP convention was filled with excitement from the start. It culminated in a group of delegates ousting then-Chairman Dan Welch, sparking a wave of resignations from other party leaders. The delegates then elected current chairman Eric Underwood to replace Welch.

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Underwood did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the donation totals.

Randall Adkins, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said he was not surprised by the drop in posts. He said this is likely related to the change in party leadership, which may have damaged previous donors’ confidence in the organization. Adkins said the party will most likely repair that damage.

“The question is how long it will last,” he said.

Some speculated that the outcome of the convention was an act of defiance of Governor Pete Ricketts’ hold on the state party. Ricketts and his family have been among the largest donors to the state GOP for years.

Of the $1.6 million donated before Congress, the Ricketts family contributed more than $555,000. But according to the records, the family has not donated any money to the state party since the party congress.

Nebraska Democratic Party leader Jane Kleeb said Ricketts used his financial clout to control the party. But after the new leadership got rid of “all his people,” Kleeb said it shook Ricketts’ confidence in the party.

A Ricketts spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lack of Ricketts money isn’t the only reason for the declining numbers. Although Ricketts often contributed large lump sums to the party, other pre-convention contributions also numbered in the thousands. Since then, most contributions have been under $1,000. A notable exception came from the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Jim Pillen, who donated $6,500 on July 28.

Both state parties were buoyed by significant external contributions from national political committees seeking to elect members of their party to Congress.

The Nebraska GOP received a $100,000 donation from the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to federal election records in September.

Meanwhile, between August and September, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee donated more than $266,000 to the Nebraska Democratic Party.

The flood of outside funds comes as incumbent Representative Don Bacon, a Republican, tries to fend off a challenge from state Sen. Tony Vargas, a Democrat, to represent Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district — one of the few house races at the national level level that political observers see as competitive.

Kleeb said much of the Democratic Campaign Committee’s money went to support Vargas’ campaign.

Kleeb has previously criticized the National Democratic establishment for not contributing enough to local Democratic candidates running in red states. However, she said Nebraska Democrats’ relationship with the national party is better than ever and will serve as “building blocks” for 2024.

In the state’s most recent financial report, which covers contributions and expenses through October 4, the Nebraska GOP did not document contributions beyond August 1, although the party did log expenses through September 16.

This could be explained by the fact that the party has been operating with fewer staff since the party congress, leading to a contribution backlog that has not yet been documented. In the federal reports, the state GOP continued to receive a steady stream of submissions through its final submission deadline on Sept. 30.

Since Congress, the state GOP has not had an executive director, who typically handles most of the day-to-day business of the party. Underwood previously said he doesn’t expect to fill the position until early next year, but he didn’t expect the vacancy to have a major impact.

Among the recent donations recorded in the state’s financial report were more than 40 anonymous donations totaling exactly $250 — the maximum amount that an unidentified person can donate — all logged on August 1.

Adkins said details could reflect a potential backlog but acknowledged it was odd.

“It’s an oddity that raises more questions than answers,” Adkins said.

Welch said the flow of contributions varied during his tenure as chairman but was typically higher in election years. When the new leadership took over, there was “a good amount” of savings, so the party should be able to continue with fewer contributions.

However, if contributions don’t recover over the long term, Welch said, it could hurt Republican candidates running in down-ballot races, particularly candidates unable to fund their own campaigns.

Adkins said that over time, fewer contributions could prevent the party from sharing important information and resources with candidates and that the party would generally not be able to function as usual.

“Ultimately, this lack of support will starve the party,” Adkins said.

Neither expects that, however, and both men said they expect the party to rebuild its contributions.

Adkins also pointed out that while less money may go directly to the party, that doesn’t mean money isn’t going to Republican candidates.

Signs of this can already be seen in Ricketts’ recent posts. Though he hasn’t donated to the state GOP since Congress, he has made over a dozen contributions directly to Republican campaigns and paid $314,000 to a new PAC called the Nebraska Future Action Fund, which is running assault ads against state Senator Matt Williams hat’ campaign for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and against Greg Gonzalez’s campaign for Douglas County Sheriff.

“The money didn’t go anywhere,” Adkins said. “It’s probably just going in a different direction.”

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