REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Paul L. Douglas, former Nebraska Attorney General
QUESTION: You have requested the Commission's opinion as to whether, under the provisions of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act, you may pay for a public opinion survey concerning yourself, which was taken during your term of office, with funds held by your campaign committee.
It is the opinion of the Commission that the Accountability and Disclosure Act would permit your campaign committee to pay for a public opinion survey such as the one you describe. However, the Act would require such an expenditure to be disclosed in your committee's annual campaign statement.
You indicate that in November 1984, a company called Starr and Associates, Inc. conducted a community attitude survey on your behalf to determine public attitudes concerning yourself. At the time the survey was conducted, you intended to remain in office as Attorney General and to run for re-election; however, you have since resigned your office. You are now seeking to expend $4,487.64 in campaign funds to pay for the survey, leaving a balance remaining in the committee's funds.
Section 49-1446.01 of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act prohibits campaign committees other than political party committees from using committee funds except to make expenditures allowed under Section 49-1419, or for enumerated purposes occurring after any election. Because the expenditure you are seeking to make would occur after an election, any allowable committee expenditures would be identified under Section 49-1446.01.
Section 49-1446.01 allows campaign committees to make expenditures or transfer funds after any election for a number of specific purposes, listed in subsection (1), (a) through (g). Subsection (1)(c) allows committee expenditures for, "obtaining public input and opinion." The Act does not further qualify this language, and so we must assume that the legislature intended the words to read as their plain meaning would indicate. That is, any generally accepted means of obtaining public input and opinion may be used after an election and paid for with campaign committee funds.
This interpretation finds support in the legislative history of Section 49-1446.01, in the floor debate on LB134, and specifically the Lowell Johnson amendment to LB134. The Johnson Amendment was the source of the language in Section 49-1446.01 of the Act.1
In describing the Amendment, Senator Johnson indicated that it, ". . . identifies some of the basic expenditures that are recognized as purposeful in campaign expenditures. The amendment, therefore, should be helpful in establishing guidelines for the general information of everyone involved . . .". Senator Beutler, sponsor of LB134, supported the amendment and indicated that it identified "acceptable campaign expenditures," within the scope of the Accountability and Disclosure Act.2
While Section 49-1446,01 identifies allowable post-election campaign committee expenditures, Section 49-1446.02 prohibits using committee funds for certain purposes, including "personal services." However, under subsection (5), committee expenditures for campaign services which are subject to reporting requirements are allowed. Construing the two relevant sections of the law 49-1446.01, and 49-1446.02, together, we believe that expenditures for "obtaining public input and opinion" are acceptable campaign committee expenditures and subject to the reporting requirements of Section 49-1455, and thus not prohibited personal services expenditures under 49-1446.02(5).
There is no indication in the statutory language, nor in the legislative history of LB134, that a post-election public opinion survey such as the one you describe would not qualify as "obtaining public input and opinion," and we therefore advise that such expenditure by your committee would be allowed under the Act.
Finally, we would remind you that Section 49-1462 R.R.S., 1943 requires your committee to file its annual report by June 1, and provides a statement closing date of May 1. Should your committee decide to expend committee funds to pay for the public opinion survey, such expenditure must be reported under Section 49-1455 of the Act.
1 Nebraska Legislative Journal, 1981, page 1571.
2 See floor debate, April 29, 1981, p.p. 4075-76.