Lawmaker will seek stronger penalties following Kintner cybersex scandal

December 11, 2016

A legislative leader who criticized state Sen. Bill Kintner over his cybersex scandal says Nebraska needs stronger penalties for people who violate political ethics laws.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist says he felt “almost inept” pursuing action against Kintner after the Papillion lawmaker admitted to using his state-owned laptop to have cybersex with a stranger he met online.

Several senators and Gov. Pete Ricketts asked Kintner to resign, but the Legislature will convene in January having done nothing to punish him since the situation came to light in July.

Kintner, who will be up for re-election in 2018, was fined $1,000 by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, an independent state agency — but that’s not enough, Krist said.

“I think that we need to take a look at some changes.”

He’s working on a bill to increase the maximum civil penalty in cases like Kintner’s from $2,000 to as much as $10,000 per violation. The exact figure could change based on feedback from fellow senators.

“What it has to do is get your attention,” Krist said.

Kintner said he doesn’t have an opinion on the proposal, which wouldn’t affect his case retroactively.

“I don’t intend to ever get another fine, so it doesn’t matter to me,” he said.

Krist is chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, a panel of lawmakers who oversee legislative services and employees. The board spent much of the summer and fall debating how to respond to Kintner’s situation, but couldn’t reach a consensus.

Now, Krist says he’d like the committee to support whatever changes he proposes for the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, an Executive Board member, called Kintner’s $1,000 penalty “sufficient” for the act of misusing his state computer.

“What he did with that equipment is another thing,” and the Legislature should consider it, Hughes said.

But he supports raising potential penalties for future cases, and said the Accountability and Disclosure Commission treats people fairly and uses appropriate leniency with those who make harmless mistakes.

“I guess I think it’s probably time to increase them somewhat,” Hughes said of the maximum fines. “A modest increase I think would probably be the best way to put it.”

The existing penalty, in place since 1999, offers little room to negotiate a settlement, said Accountability and Disclosure Executive Director Frank Daley.

Settlements help the state avoid formal hearing costs, since Nebraska law doesn’t require violators to cover those costs unless they skip a hearing entirely.

For many campaigns and elected officials, a $2,000 fine “might come off as a cost of doing business,” Daley said.

In Kinter’s case, the commission settled for half that.

Daley would also like to require restitution in certain cases, such as when someone misuses campaign funds or when an elected official abuses government resources, costing the state money.

Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska, which helped create the Accountability and Disclosure Commission, said it is the right entity to handle government ethics issues because it is politically balanced by law and has a record of treating people fairly.

Boosting the potential penalties the commission can require gives it “more clout,” Gould said. “I think it’s needed in this day in age.”