OPINION NUMBER - 111
ADOPTED - 1988/04/08
SUBJECT - Campaign Financing and Conflicts of Interest; Use of public resources for political activities.
REQUESTED BY: Patricia C. Snyder, Executive Director, Nebraska Health Care Association.
QUESTION: 1) May a separate segregated political fund accept contributions from nonmembers of a professional or trade association sponsoring the fund?
2) May a separate segregated political fund of a professional or trade association accept contributions from members of the association which are nonprofit organizations?
3) May the separate segregated political fund of a professional or trade association accept contributions from members which are owned by the state or a political subdivision thereof?
4) May the separate segregated political fund of a trade or professional association accept contributions from members which are tax supported but not owned by the state or a political subdivision thereof?
The Nebraska Health Care Association is a nonprofit trade association representing long term health care facilities in Nebraska with its membership including skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded, long term care units in hospitals, domiciliary facilities and residential care facilities. The Nebraska Health Care Association maintains a separate segregated political fund. The association wishes to know from which members it may accept contributions. Section 49-1469(2)(a) prohibits a corporation, labor organization, industry, trade, or professional association from receiving contributions unless it establishes and administers a separate segregated political fund. Section 49-1469(c) states that "all contributions to and expenditures from such separate segregated political fund shall be limited to money or anything of ascertainable monetary value obtained through the voluntary contributions of the employees, officers, directors, stockholders or members of the corporation, including a nonprofit corporation, labor organization, or industry, trade or professional association . . .." The same section goes on to state that "only expenditures to candidates and committees, independent expenditures, and expenditures for the establishment and administration of such separate segregated political fund may be made from a fund established by an industry, trade, or professional association." Thus, it is clear that the class of contributors is limited and the purposes for which expenditures may be made by the separate segregated political fund are limited as well.
We have stated in Advisory Opinions #68, 82, 89, and 95 that public funds and resources may not be used to support or oppose the passage of a ballot question. The reasoning which leads us to take this position also extends itself to prohibiting the use of public funds and resources to support or oppose a candidate in any election either through direct or indirect expenditures. To use public money in such a way would be a violation of Section 49-14,101(4).
We therefore answer your questions as follows:
1) A contribution may not be accepted by the separate segregated political fund sponsored by the industry, trade or professional association unless the nonmember is an employee, officer, director, or stockholder in the trade organization.
2) Contributions may be accepted from a member which is a nonprofit facility. You are cautioned, however, that certain nonprofit organizations which enjoy a tax exempt status under federal law may jeopardize this status by engaging in certain types of political activities. You may wish to encourage your nonprofit members to seek professional tax advice prior to making a contribution to the separate segregated political fund.
3) A member facility which is owned by the state or a political subdivision thereof may not make a contribution to the fund. As stated above, public funds may not be used to advocate positions on ballot questions or advocate or oppose candidates in elections. Inasmuch as these are the only purposes for contributions to separate segregated political funds, the governmentally owned facility may not contribute to the fund. We recognize that there may be institutions which are owned by the state or a political subdivision thereof which manage to support themselves through funds generated by the services that they render. However, these generated funds are public money or public resources. Such a self-supporting institution is therefore not exempt from the prohibition against making a contribution to a separate segregated political fund.
4) A member facility which is tax supported but not governmentally owned may contribute to a separate segregated political fund as long as it does not use public money for this purpose. It should be pointed out, however, that it is incumbent upon the tax supported non-governmentally owned contributor to maintain sufficient record to show that no tax money is being used for contributions to the separate segregated political fund.