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Political group that got money from utility coop scrutinized

October 4, 2020 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A political action committee that supports candidates for the Nebraska Public Power District’s board is being scrutinized because it received a start-up loan from a group backed by several rural public power districts.

Several ratepayers and two NPPD board members have questioned whether the $7,500 loan the Nebraskans for Reliable and Affordable Electricity group received was proper. The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission is looking into the matter after several people filed complaints about the loan from the Nebraska Electric Generation and Transmission cooperative that is funded by several public utilities, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

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Kate High, a Lincoln woman who filed a complaint, said she doesn’t believe money utility customers pay to a public utility should be directed to a political campaign.

“I can’t get my electricity any other place — I’m locked into this,” High said. “That’s my light bill money they are using to make campaign contributions to someone I may or may not support.”

But the general manager of the utility cooperative, Darin Bloomquist, said the loan complied with state law. Bloomquist said once the money from the utilities was paid to the cooperative, it became private money that could be used for political purposes. Bloomquist also serves as an assistant treasurer for the political action committee.

“Once the payment is remitted to me, it is no longer public funds,” Bloomquist said. “We are a private company rendering a service, and this is totally within our purview.”

Still, NPPD board member Gary Thompson of Clatonia said he doesn’t think the payment was appropriate.

“I believe it’s illegal to use public funds for the promotion of any candidate or issue,” Thompson said. “You just don’t do that. While (Nebraska Electric Generation and Transmission) is a private entity, they are using — exclusively — public funds to promote specific candidates.”

The Nebraskans for Reliable and Affordable Electricity political action committee says it backs candidates who support using a variety of different fuels to generate electricity, not just wind and solar power. The group said on its website that it was created to counter the “tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-state money” spent in support of candidates who favor expanding wind and solar generation.