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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (March 9, 1999)
Money for nothing
UNL should object to ‘rule’ of spending scant resources wooing officials
Editor s note: Each Tuesday this
semester, the Daily Nebraskan will
print an opinion column from a guest
columnist. Each works at the
University of Nebraska or is involved
with an issue that affects our campus
or our students.
BILL AVERY is a professor
of political science. He
served on the Common
Cause national board
Several weeks ago, the clerk of
the Nebraska Legislature released
figures on the earnings and expendi
tures of those who lobbied the
Legislature in 1998. Among the top
four spenders was the University of
Nebraska, which spent $106,927 on
lobbying fees and entertainment.
State law requires the reporting
of lobbying expenditures each quar
ter, but does not force lobbyists to
reveal how much is spent on each
state senator. That makes it impossi
ble to know from the reports who is
getting what and how much.
But the university, as a tax-sup
ported public institution, must honor
requests to reveal in greater detail
how it spends its lobbying dollars.
Last November, at the request of
Common Cause, a nonpartisan citi
zen group that supports openness
and accountability in government,
the university opened its 1997 spend
ing records to public scrutiny. The
records showed that the university
knew how to use to best advantage
what was commonly considered its
most valuable asset: football tickets.
All 49 senators were offered free
tickets, and 21 accepted them. At a
cost of $350 per ticket, this account
ed for $7,350 of the $85,959.67 the
university spent on lobbying in 1997.
Many of the remaining 28 sena
tors accepted the tickets, but paid for
them, claiming that by paying, they
did not get a special benefit.
How many fans who have been
trying in vain to get season tickets to
1 Husker football games believe that
The football and other sports
related treats do not end with season
tickets. Fully 35 senators accepted
special press-box tickets at a total
cost of $1,960; gameday lunches for
senators cost another $924; and it
cost $3,900 to send Gov. Ben Nelson
to the Orange Bowl. Basketball tick
ets and those game day lunches cost
an additional $ 1,607.
The gift-giving goes beyond
Husker sporting events to include
free tickets to Lied Center perfor
mances and entertainment expenses
incurred by President Dennis Smith
and other NU officials, such as a
Sandhills golfmg trip for Smith and
Nelson, that cost at least $460.
The university also hired outside
lobbyists in 1997 at a cost of
$48,000, which appears to be above
and beyond the salary paid to former
state Sen. Ron Withem, who now
heads the university lobbying office.
When asked about these expendi
tures, university officials patiently
explain - as though the question
springs from political naivete - that
this is how the game is played, and
they simply are playing by legal rules
they did not create. Of course, this is
true to some extent. Other groups
with a stake in how state tax dollars
are spent also spend large sums win
ing and dining senators and the gov
ernor. In 1997, the total amount
spent by lobbyists on gifts and enter
tainment for senators amounted to
nearly $250,000. That’s about $5,000
a senator, in addition to their regular
Some senators complain that
their meager $12,000 annual salary
is too low. They argue that the gifts
and meals help ease the burden of
the sacrifices they make to serve.
What they don’t mention is that each
receives a generous daily stipend to
cover meals and expenses during the
The biggest joke lies in the vehe
ment denials that such lobbying
largesse is meant to influence votes.
Givers and takers alike bristle at the
suggestion that the gifts and enter
tainment are in any way meant to
sway a senator to vote in a particular
If you buy that, I want to talk to
you alxmt some swampland in
If lobbyists didn’t know gifts and
entertainment influenced votes, why
on earth would they spend so much
money on them? Indeed, in an era of
lean budgets and annual appeals for
further belt-tightening, how does the
university justify spending such
large sums this way?
A better question might be:
Where is the shame?
Why doesn’t the Legislature
change the rules and ban all gifts?
An attempt five years ago to end gift
giving met with ridicule among sen
ators in floor debate. This winter,
Common Cause circulated a bill at
the beginning of the session that sim
ply would require full disclosure of
who gets what.
Not a single senator would agree
to carry the bill.
So another legislative session
will proceed as before, with large
sums being spent on “influence”
gifts and entertainment, and the uni
versity once again will devote scarce
resources to “playing by the rules.”
What should the university’s
position be on this issue? Should the
university end the practice and “uni
laterally disarm” in the battle for
state revenues? Should university
officials dare to treat our citizen sen
ators the same as any other Nebraska
student, faculty, staff member or tax
Let’s not be naive. The Huskers
will make it to the Final Four before
So, here are some more realistic
suggestions. First, the university
could take the lead in urging the
Legislature to adopt rules that ban or
sharply limit gifts. This not only
would improve the legislative
process by reducing the unfair
advantage of well-funded special
interests, but it also would save
scarce university resources.
Second, the university could sup
port full disclosure. This at least
would have the effect of requiring all
other lobbying interests in die state
to do what the university must do
already. It also would open up the
lobbying process to more public
scrutiny, giving voters the informa
tion they need to decide for them
selves whether the giving and taking
of gifts is out of bounds.
As the state’s leading educational
institution, the university has a moral
obligation to set the highest stan
dards for its behavior. Hiding behind
the excuse that “everyone is doing it”
is not good enough.
What is legal is not always right
Keep on truckin’
New luxury sport-utility vehicles fail tests for sportiness, utility, safety
A.L. FORKNER is a junior
news-editorial major and a
Daily Nebraskan colum
This just in: Bigger vehicles cause
lotsa damage to little vehicles.
This shocking information comes
from New York Times automotive
writer, Keith Bradsher. Bradsher was
featured in a Columbia Journalism
Review, detailing his painstaking
research into the extensive damage
large pickups and sport utility vehicles
(S.U.Ys) can cause.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Hold on a minute while I dry my tears
from your Pulitzer “slight.”
Sorry, I really have nothing per
sonal against Bradsher. It’s stupid peo
ple in general who bother me. (Don’t
even get me started on Jerry Springer
or Ricki Lake.)
It s like the world suddenly real
ized that big, heavy things can hurt lit
tle, lightweight things. See, where I’m
from that’s called survival of the
Great Danes always beat
Chihuahuas in a fight - yes, even the
cute little Taco Bell guy. Why else do
you think he bribed Godzilla with
Even he realized that a recycled
beer can (read: Geo) won’t survive a
collision with an M-l Abrams.
Even with the airbags.
So, is there a cry to toughen up the
safety standards on smaller cars?
Heck no! Instead there’s talk that
our pals in government want to lower
bumper heights and ground clearances
on the pick-em-ups.
This makes sense? Make the safe
things less safe, and leave the unsafe
Am I the only one that hears the
Laurel-and-Hardy music playing in
Of course, I could be wrong.
Maybe the experts do know more than
this mild-mannered journalist.
See, in A.L.’s happy little world, all
cars would have at least a foot of
Bumpers would be replaced by
metal railroad ties.
Gun racks would be standard.
Now calm down, I’m not talking
Weird A.L. Beyond Thunderdome
here. (Although... Tina Turner...)
I’m just sick of seeing those little
cars crumple like a Hamm’s beer can
in the smallest collision.
What’s the real problem with the
pregnant roller skates? It’s all in the
Lift the hood on a Ford Festiva. If
you look really close, you can still
read the labels from the recycled beer
In summary, of course the small
car endures the most damage. I can’t
wait to see the results form the
Peterbilt/Suzuki-Sidekick test. I’ll bet
a fiver on the semi.
Maybe the whole problem would
be solved if we made the bumpers out
of Nerf. You know, that’s not that bad
of an id...
(Note to self: Begin research on
Nerf bumpers. Remove all references
from column until patent clears.)
(Another note to self: D’Oh! Too
late! Damn those deadlines!)
Of course, whenever there is a
good thing, some people have to go
and ruin it.
Naturally, I’m talking about the
owners of any “off-road” vehicle
made by Lexus, Lincoln, Mercury,
Cadillac or Mercedes.
You people S.U.K. In my world, a
truck is durable, indestructible and
My friends and I have spent many
an hour in the Black Hills of South
Dakota driving through, around and
Not something you’d want to do in
a $40,000 Lexus. My personal choice
would be a 1982 Jeep Scrambler with
the top off.
My friend Jay used to own one.
“The Heap” would bounce off trees
without catching a second wind.
It ran through rivers up to its dash
board with no damage. Well, the
stereo was a little weird after that, but
Hell, the engine caught fire once,
and it was up and running soon after
the fire was put out.
Now that’s an S.U.V
No leather seats, no heated mirrors
and no onboard computer navigation
The jeeps also had no problem on
the city streets.
Sure, you couldn’t do much more
than 55 mph without vibrating your
fillings loose. That’s one of their built
in safety features.
Do I think these luxury “war
wagon” S.U.Vs are dangerous?
No, the vehicles themselves aren’t.
It’s the yahoos who buy them.
I think we need a five-day waiting
period and background check for buy
ing those beasts.
A few standards: No one under 6
feet tall allowed.
An S.U.V owner would be required to
drive off-road at least once a month,
and a gravel farm road doesn’t count.
Lastly, grocery shopping is strictly
At the very least, let’s create a sep
arate classification on the
drivers’ license. Hey, „ *
we do it with ^
really happy with you, either.
As some may have heard, Ford
unveiled their newest beast a few
Weighing in at 19 feet long, it’s the
largest production vehicle ever built.
' It’s an unwieldy, over-sized behe
It’s also overkill.
In the boonies, this truck would
get stuck in a tight switchback,
bogged down in the
\ mud and wedged
* between two trees.
It’s just another
example of America’s
style of taking a good
thing too damn far.
We couldn’t just be
happy with a Jeep Cherokee
or a Dodge Durango.
Noooo. Americans needed to
outdo the neighbors. If he has a
Dodge, I need a Lincoln. He has a
Lincoln? I need a Lexus. Shoot,
they have a Lexus? We have to
buy a Mercedes.
l i Of course, when the suits get
\ their big-buck trucks stuck in a
r n snow drift who do they call?
I can’t tell for sure, but odds are
Jji a 1978 Jeep CJ-7 will answer.
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