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Exclusive: State Republican Chairman Does Contract Work for Bruning

By   /   April 17, 2012  /   10 Comments

The chairman of the state Republican Party has done contract work for Attorney General Jon Bruning since 2005, and his law firm has earned $136,700 representing the state Labor Department in one lawsuit over the past two years.

Mark Fahleson, a partner at the Rembolt Ludtke law firm, lists himself as a “special assistant attorney general since 2005” on his firm’s website. According to this 2010 letter, Bruning appointed Fahleson and two other lawyers at his firm to represent the state Labor Department in a lawsuit over changes the labor commissioner made to an old Labor Department retirement plan. The letter says the lawyers “are subject to the supervision and direction of the attorney general.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Shannon Kingery, said Fahleson does not have a contract with the attorney general, but with the Labor Department. And she noted Fahleson is not housed in the attorney general’s office.

Fahleson said his law firm has been hired by the attorney general on a case-by-case basis since 2005. Asked how many cases he’s worked on, he said, “I think three.” Asked how much his law firm has been paid, he said, “I have no idea.”

“When the attorney general has a conflict, they appoint other firms to handle cases,” he said.

Jim Rogers, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said Fahleson’s appointment looks like “a special favor for a political friend.”

“It certainly creates the question, given Bruning’s behavior that he’s exhibited doling out political favors… right and left,” Rogers said. “A political activist doing work in the AG’s office… certainly can be called into question.”

Fahleson has expertise in litigation and employment labor law. He has been chairman of the state party since 2009, and noted that he began taking cases for the state long before that. He said there is “zip, zero, zilch” potential for a conflict of interest for the party chairman to do contract work for Bruning – a fellow Republican. He suggested “someone with an axe to grind” was peddling the story.

“There’s nothing out of ordinary in the process,” he said. “There’s nothing improper in our firm’s representation.”

He said people surely didn’t expect him to stop practicing law when he accepted the volunteer position as chairman of the GOP. His firm has done work for local, state and federal government in its 42 years, he said.

Labor Commissioner Catherine Lang said Fahleson’s firm has been paid $136,700 for work on the case, which has been paid by her department. The issue of farming out lawsuit costs to departments has been an flashpoint in the U.S. Senate campaign, with Bruning accusing his chief Republican opponent, Don Stenberg, of making his budget look smaller by passing lawsuit costs on to state agencies when Stenberg was attorney general.

In fact, Bruning came out with a TV ad today in which he says, “In the past, outside law firms did much of the AG’s work, hiding the cost from taxpayers. Not on my watch.”

Coincidentally, on Friday District Judge Paul Merritt dismissed the labor lawsuit that Fahleson’s firm has been working on for the past two years — which Fahleson called a “great result for the state and taxpayers.” Former employees of the Labor Department sued Lang for terminating the pension plan and eliminating cost-of-living-adjustments to their pensions. A virtually identical class action complaint was dismissed in federal court.

The defined benefit plan was established in 1961 under the direction of the federal government because at the time the state didn’t have a retirement program for the employees. Employees stopped contributing money to the retirement plan in 1994 because it was fully funded. Only employees who began working for the department before 1984 are still covered by the plan; it was closed to new members in 1984.

The plan largely operated under the radar until 2008, when it was hit hard by the recession and was only funding 68 percent of its pension liability, with a shortfall estimated at $30 to $40 million. Lang, who took the reins at the Labor Department in 2008, called the retirement plan a “deep, dark secret” and started making changes to try to shore up the badly underfunded plan. She began requiring active employees to contribute to the plan and halted cost-of-living increases until the plan is fully funded. Those changes are what prompted the lawsuits that Fahleson worked on.

Fahleson said he has also been appointed by Bruning to do work for the state Game and Parks Commission and State Bar Commission.

Reported by Deena Winter, deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter is a reporter for NebraskaWatchdog.org. Contact her at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @DeenaNEWatchdog.

  • Axe to Grind

    Strange that this blog is hitting at Bruning again . . . Clearly Deena and Joe have one reason for their existence, and that’s taking the hatchet to Bruning. This story is a thinly veiled distortion. Who pays the salaries for the two “reporters” on this blog?

  • Watching From Lincoln

    It is not whether or not an impropriety has occurred or not between Bruning and Fahleson, it is the APPEARANCE of such impropriety that is important. There are many qualified Labor Law offices in Nebraska that could have handled the subcontracted work that the Attorney General’s Office was either unable or unwilling to do, and do so WITHOUT the appearance of any impropriety, favoritism or cronyism.

    At the least, this is yet another case of poor judgement on the part of Attorney General Bruning (illegally obtaining sodium thiopental twice for executions, and knowingly accepting illegal campaign contributions from a foreign corporation) and GOP Chair Mark Fahleson (the legal challenge to Bob Kerrey’s legitimacy to appear on the ballot).

    The real question is just how did these two fools come to power, and do I really want either to be representatives of my Party? The answer to the first part is who really knows what kind of back-room, under the table deals were made to do so and to the second part, no way in hell.

  • Watching From Lincoln

    Bottom line in this matter: If it looks, walks and stinks like a skunk, then it is a skunk. Given the past history of both parties involved, sure does look like some good ol’ mutual back scratching and palm greasing was going on, and over $100,000 of tax payers money was involved in the payoff. I personally know one of the former full partners of Rembolt Ludtke back when their last name was included in the firm’s name, and the B.S. between Fahleson and Bruning would have NEVER been allowed back then simply BECAUSE of the appearance of impropriety would not have been wanted reflecting back on the firm.

  • Democrats too

    To be fair, my understanding is Bruning also OK’d hiring of Bob Bartle, the late Chuck Pallesen, Clarence Mock and others who are not GOP stalwarts. Fahleson clearly is a top tier lawyer, and the AGs office was using him prior to him being GOP chair. This is a very slanted story.

  • Hal

    W.F.L.— I always enjoy your reasoned messages on this site. I will seriously read or listen, as well, to principled columnists, “right” or “left” so long as they don’t act like “flamers” or puppets, parroting a party line or ideology.

    One of my more influential courses in college was in Political Science—we were forced to read editorials, learn viewpoints, etc., of all political views, and then discuss them(putting it mildly) in class. Our instructor never let on as to his political leanings, as hard as we tried to unearth them.

    At the time, I was really impressed with Willam F. Buckley’s explanations of conservative thought(and I was REALLY impressed with his vocabulary! Jeez, he spoke words I’d never heard before, and very few of them since that time.) I think Buckley would be considered a RINO today, and at the least, too much of an “intellectual egghead” to be a part of the Republican party.

    Now, people like Limbaugh, Ted Nugent, et al, carry more clout, sad to say, speaking in one and two syllable words, with bumper-sticker messages like: ” WE GOOD: THEY BAD. SHE SLUT.”

    I agree with your comments regarding Bruning—the “payoff” for contracting is just part of his very transparent pandering and support-building. But—I suppose he’s playing the game as it works these days. He’ll probably be elected and have a long, cushy career.

  • Matter of Judgement

    As always with Bruning, the issue is judgement – which is lacking once again. Did anyone else read what the Kearney paper said after his “Creepy” attack on Stenberg? “Bruning’s attack was so far off base and tasteless that it calls into question both his values and his judgment to be trusted with high office.” Enough said!

  • Retrospect

    Bruning can be aptly described in one word; SLIMEBALL!!

  • ricky

    Shocking I know. Who would have thought corruption exists between AG Bruning and Fahleson?

    What we want to know is who are the sugar daddies AG Bruning used to make millions as a state employee?

    I think Mr Kerrey will be looking into that.

    ricky from omaha

  • watchdogfan

    I think Mr. Kerrey will be very busy finding out about all the corruption and sugar daddy’s Bruning has in his closet.

  • Pingback: Stenberg calls on Bruning to take down TV ad

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