By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — The state Democratic Party on Tuesday asked for an investigation into a possible violation of state campaign finance and ethics statutes by Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
Democrats are going after Fischer for two pieces of legislation she sponsored that could be related to a lawsuit Fischer and her husband filed over disputed property along the fence line with their elderly (now deceased) neighbors, Leslie and Elizabeth Kime, who owned Snake Falls Ranch. The Fischers own Sunny Slope Ranch, 30 miles south of Valentine.
Last week, Democrats accused Fischer of failing to disclose a personal interest in two bills. This week, they’ve gone a step further, filing a complaint and asking for an investigation by the Nebraska Accountability & Disclosure Commission.
Democrats contend Fischer should have disclosed that she had “historical personal interest” and a potential financial gain or loss in the sale of a neighboring ranch to the state of Nebraska.
Deb and her husband, Bruce, sued their neighbors in 1995, seeking rights to 104 acres of the Kimes’ land along the fence line that the Fischer family had maintained and pastured cattle on since the 1970s. The Kimes won the lawsuit. After a county fencing committee re-fenced the boundary line, the Fischers didn’t pay their portion of the bill until 2002, when the county clerk threatened to add it to their property tax bill.
In the wake of all that, Fischer in 2006 introduced a bill in the Legislature that changed the way fencing disputes were mediated. Then in 2011, Fischer introduced a bill that Democrats contend was intended to prevent the sale of the Kimes’ Snake Falls Ranch to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission by gutting the Nebraska Environmental Trust budget. In the end, the cut wasn’t as severe as Fischer proposed, and a private group bought Snake Falls Ranch.
Democrats say Fischer should have filed a conflict-of-interest statement with the A&D.
“The ownership and control of this land was a longstanding personal and financial concern of Deb Fischer,” said Democratic National Committeewoman Patricia Zieg.
“Fischer had a duty to alert the public, her constituents and her fellow state senators about her interest in the sale of the Kime family ranch when she introduced LB 229. Her failure to do so shows an inability to tell the difference between her own self-interest and that of the larger community. There’s already too much of that attitude and conduct in Washington D.C. now.”
Fischer’s campaign spokesman, Daniel Keylin, called it “shameful” that the Democrats would attack Fischer for passing what he called “a bipartisan water conservation bill that helps fund the Platte River Recovery Program and protects the environment” while Nebraska is in the midst of a drought. He said the Democrats are “desperately resorting to blatantly frivolous accusations and outrageous character smears because they can’t win on the issues.”
Fischer is running for the Senate against former Nebraska governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, who was asked about the Fischer complaint today during a press conference. He said he doesn’t know the facts of the case, but he knew the Kimes and had never heard of such a situation before.
“Senator Fischer said this was a routine border dispute but I don’t think so,” Kerrey said. “I just never heard of it before where somebody gives you access and the opportunity to use their property and then you bring a lawsuit against them in order to seize that property. It doesn’t seem to me to be a Nebraska value. Perhaps it happens all the time. I just never heard of it before.”
Nebraska GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson called the complaint meritless and called it another example of Kerrey trying to innoculate himself from his own ethical issues, such as his trading cattle future contracts in 1989 while he was a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
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