The two Republicans are vying for Republican votes in the May 15 primary election.
In the ad in question, Bruning says, “In the past, outside law firms did much of the AG’s work, hiding the cost from taxpayers. Not on my watch.” The ad refers to Bruning’s contention that when Stenberg was attorney general, he farmed out many lawsuits to private lawyers and passed the costs onto state agencies.
Stenberg referred to a Nebraska Watchdog story that disclosed that Bruning tapped GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson’s law firm to handle several cases for his office, for which the firm has been paid nearly $137,000 for one case alone. Fahleson’s firm has been paid by the Labor Department.
“So much for Jon Bruning’s transparency claim,” Stenberg said in a press release. “Sometimes I think I’m running against John Kerry – the guy who was for it before he was against it – rather than Jon Bruning.”
Stenberg said there’s nothing wrong with Bruning using outside counsel to handle certain cases, the issue is “Bruning’s hypocrisy and refusal to tell Nebraskans the truth about his record.”
“I call on Mr. Bruning to correct the record publicly and take down or correct his false TV ad,” Stenberg said. “Nebraska taxpayers deserve the truth.”
However, Stenberg has not called on the conservative Club for Growth – which is expected to spend up to a million dollars supporting Stenberg and opposing Bruning — to take down its TV ad claiming Bruning nearly doubled the attorney general’s budget when he succeeded Stenberg. According to FactCheck.org, Bruning’s budget increased 81 percent from 2003 to 2011 but that doesn’t account for normal inflation, an increase in federal funds to fight Medicaid fraud or the fact that the attorney general’s office now covers the cost of defending lawsuits, rather than passing those costs onto state departments, as Stenberg did. When Bruning took office, then-Gov. Mike Johanns asked him to end the practice of farming out lawsuits to private law firms.
Adjusted for inflation, Bruning’s total budget rose 49 percent and his general fund budget went up 13 percent, below the rate of inflation, FactCheck.org concluded.
Stenberg’s spokesman Dan Parsons said the campaign is prevented by law from communicating with the Club for Growth about its ad, or any other third party political action committees. Bruning’s campaign manager, Trent Fellers, said Stenberg and outside interest groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on “false attacks” against Bruning, and are misleading voters about the attorney general’s budget.
“Don can’t defend the $57 million dollars spent on major cases outside his budget,” Fellers said. “He continues to mislead Nebraska taxpayers into thinking he is a fiscal hawk. The truth is, it was reported that his office budget would have tripled had he kept the costs of these cases on his books like other AGs have. When Jon took office, he immediately worked with Governor Johanns to bring those costs back to the AG’s budget, restoring honesty and transparency to the office.”
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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