By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Ken Mass was attending a fundraiser Wednesday night when he ran into state Sen. Brenda Council, whose name was all over the news after being charged in connection with using nearly $63,000 in campaign funds to gamble.
You might expect Mass to be angry with Council – after all, the president of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO knew his federation of labor unions had donated a chunk of change to the first-term senator. More than $1,000 this year.
But Mass was not condemning Council, who told him she would begin gambling treatment Thursday.
“Brenda Council has been a great friend of ours and working men and women of Nebraska,” he told Nebraska Watchdog today. “People have situations in their personal life. That does not affect their legislative minds or positions – that kind of thing.”
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning charged Council, an Omaha Democrat, with two misdemeanors Wednesday for not reporting her use of about $63,000 in campaign funds to gamble at casinos. She has repaid about $36,000 and vowed to repay the rest.
She apologized and acknowledged Wednesday she has a gambling problem, but signaled that she will continue her re-election bid to the north Omaha legislative seat once held by her opponent, Ernie Chambers. Chambers is an iconic political figure in Nebraska — the longest-serving Nebraska lawmaker who was term-limited out of his seat but is now eligible to run again after sitting out four years.
One of Council’s biggest donors is the Nebraska State Education Association, which has donated $12,500 to her campaign since 2010, according to her state campaign finance reports. Asked whether the teachers’ union will continue to support Council, NSEA President Nancy Fulton released a statement crediting Council – a former Omaha School Board member – for being a champion for children and education.
“She has admitted her mistake, is repaying her campaign, and is seeking treatment for her addiction,” Fulton said. “This is a heartbreaking and painful time for her and her family and we appreciate that she is working to address a difficult personal issue in a very public manner.”
Among Council’s other big donors are the International Association of Firefighters, which donated $5,000 last year, the Nebraska Realtors Association, which donated $3,000 this year, and the Nebraska Bankers Association, which donated $1,600 this year.
Joni Sundquist, vice president of communications for the Bankers Association, could not say whether the group would continue to support Council.
“We’re simply monitoring the situation at this time,” she said.
Brendon Polt, government relations director for the Nebraska Health Care Association, was stunned by the charges against Council, whom he has known since she ran for mayor of Omaha in the 1990s. He said she’s been an “outstanding advocate” for long-term care and has a “tremendous amount of support.” The association donated $1,000 to her this year.
“We wish her the very best with this challenge,” he said. “I think it’s too new for us to have any position on this.”
John Hoppe Jr., chairman of the Nebraska Realtors’ political action committee, said his group will meet next week and it’s possible someone will suggest they ask for their money back from Council.
“She’s been a good senator as far as the job she does,” he said.
Mass said the AFL-CIO will continue to support Council.
“Everybody has bones in the closet,” he said. “She’s been up front and said, ‘I’m guilty. I did it.’ We’ll stand with Brenda and hopefully treatment will be successful and Brenda can go on with life.”
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog.
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