Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery introduced a bill today that would ban candidates for the state Public Service Commission from accepting campaign contributions from the utilities regulated by the body.
Avery said the vast majority of contributions to PSC candidates come from the industries the board regulates, particularly telecommunications companies, cable companies and phone companies.
Avery’s bill, LB1025, is similar to a measure he introduced in 2007, but it got a cool reception from an “extremely hostile” committee, he said.
“I’ve long been uncomfortable with the cozy relationship between the PSC and the industries they regulate,” Avery said today. “I think that creates a bad impression.”
And now that the PSC is charged with overseeing the location of oil pipelines, the legislation is even more needed, Avery said.
“That changes the game,” he said. “Now we’re bringing one of the largest industry groups in the country, with very deep pockets. They’re a very powerful group of people who are used to getting what they want without having to do a whole lot to get it. I’m afraid that they will throw a lot of money around at a lot of these races for Public Service Commission.”
A commissioner who received 90 percent of their campaign contributions from the industry may think twice about making a decision the industry doesn’t like, Avery said.
The argument used against Avery’s bill in 2007 was that legislators should play by the same rules – not take contributions from any industry they might make a decision about. Avery rejects that argument, saying the Legislature isn’t a regulatory agency and serves broader interests.
Common Cause of Nebraska spokesman Jack Gould said it stands to reason that commissioners shouldn’t take contributions from the industries they regulate, but he estimates about 90 to 95 percent do.
“You have to ask yourself, who do these guys work for? Do they work for the public or do they work for the people who finance their campaigns?”
Public Service Commissioner Jerry Vap raised $21,300 and Commissioner Rod Johnson nearly $16,000 during their six-year terms, according to Common Cause.
Most Nebraskans don’t know who their public service commissioners are, Gould said, because the commissioners are more beholden to the industries who finance their campaigns. If they had to rely on contributions from people, they’d be more responsive to people, Gould said.
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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