Watchdog group: Lawmakers broke public's trust
Five state lawmakers are being heavily criticized by a government watchdog, Common Cause Nebraska, following an exclusive investigation by News Channel Nebraska.
NCN first reported the five had made a controversial financial arrangement with a private company, which was backing the group's climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The senators initially said the company had pledged to pay for at least part of the trip, following our investigation they now say they paid for the entire trip themselves.
[View our exclusive video above and check back for a complete transcript of this report]
One lawmaker tells News Channel Nebraska "We did nothing wrong" another called our reports "misleading."
Meanwhile a key government watchdog group sees things quite differently insisting that what happened was not right.
As we first reported, it started out as well publicized political bridge building, a climb up Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro by 5 state senators: Republicans Tom Brewer, Ben Hanson, and Dave Murman along with Democrats Justin Wayne and Anna Wishart.
Now a News Channel Nebraska investigation continues to raise questions about that climb up Kilimanjaro.
Once at the top the five held a banner touting Standard Process, a Wisconsin nutritional supplement company, which then displayed the photo on its Facebook page congratulating them and noting that Hansen, who is also a chiropractor and a Standard Process customer "provided supplement recommendations for the group."
Jack Gould (Common Cause, NE.): If Senators or any elected officials are allowed to go out and pose and support endorse corporations then we're in a situation where who's paying how much is going out there and is this the right thing for a publicly elected official to be accepting gifts from private corporations."
All five acknowledge that they received a trip-related gift of at least $1,000 from Standard Process.
Each gift described as a “pledge.”
Standard Process initially told NCN it "provided each climber $1,300 for their flights" and "provided supplements."
Six hours later the company updated its story that it just "learned that the checks for the $1,300 were never actually sent to the climbers, due to an error by our (it's) accounting team."
So according to the company and the lawmakers, in the end the company did not pay for the trip up Kilimanjaro.
But Jack Gould still has plenty of questions:
Jack Gould (Common Cause NE): “The public has a right to know how these things are handled and how they’re financed.”
And following our investigation Gould told NCN things were not on the up and up that, "The senators did not turn down the money, Standard Process just didn't pay up...the senators were expecting compensation."
Also, Just days following our investigation, at least three of the five lawmakers wrote letters to the state ethics folks, updating their earlier financial reports.
Hansen and Wishart, using the same exact wording, noting that they “did not end up accepting this pledged gift from Standard Process.”
Even Sen. Murman, who calls our initial report "misleading," acknowledged this in an email to News Channel Nebraska:
"Although I never received any funding from Standard Process, their (sic) had at one time been a pledge to sponsor our flights," Murman adding he reported the pledge "to be totally transparent."
But the head of the state's ethics office, Executive Director Frank Daley, has told NCN, "Under gifts I don't know what (the word pledge) means."
By the way Sen. Hansen who, according to Standard Process is one of their customers and was the link to the other four lawmakers, has not responded to NCN's several requests for comment on any of this.