Herbster campaign says it pulled law enforcement ad over legal issues | Politics

Charles W. Herbster’s campaign said it pulled a TV ad featuring law enforcement officials, amid fears the ad may have violated state law.

Nebraska law appears to prohibit sheriffs from campaigning for candidates in uniform – but three elected sheriffs and a captain wore their uniforms and badges while endorsing the Republican gubernatorial candidate, who is seen as a frontrunner in the race to replace Governor Pete Ricketts.

The World-Herald contacted Herbster’s campaign about the apparent breach Tuesday morning. Spokeswoman Emily Novotny responded that while the campaign does not believe the ad violates state law, it has taken it off the air.

“The Herbster Campaign for Nebraska does not believe that our advertising with our Nebraska Grand Sheriffs violates state law,” Novotny wrote in an email. “No taxpayer funds were used in the production or airing of our advertising. Nebraska Sheriffs are elected officials and have earned the right to proudly wear their uniforms and, as elected leaders, to have a voice in chapter on important questions and issues.

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“We understand that some have raised concerns, and out of respect for the sheriffs, Herbster of Nebraska has removed the ad from the air. We remain grateful for the outpouring of support from law enforcement across this state, and we support proudly blue.”

The campaign said it pulled the ad on Thursday.

In the ad, Seward County Sheriff Michael Vance, York County Sheriff Paul Vrbka, and Lincoln County Sheriff Jerome Kramer all appear in uniform and badges. The same goes for York County captain Josh Gillespie. Captains are appointed, not elected.

Former Nebraska State Patrol Colonel Tom Nesbitt is the only person to appear in street clothes. They all say lines that, taken together, amount to vouching for Herbster’s support of law enforcement.

“I’m voting for Charles W. Herbster,” the four uniformed officials say in unison at the end of the announcement.

The World-Herald attempted to reach the three sheriffs-elect Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning and had not received a response by noon Tuesday.

Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller, who is president of the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association, said the association has not and will not endorse a candidate for governor or other positions with multiple candidates. He referred The World-Herald to individual sheriffs to answer any questions about their appearance in the ad.

When asked for his opinion on whether it was acceptable for sheriffs to appear in uniform in an ad endorsing a candidate, Frank Daley, executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, pointed to a 1994 advisory opinion as his position. official of the committee.

The commission, in that opinion, found that an elected and serving county sheriff could not engage in “overt and deliberate campaign activity” while wearing his sheriff’s uniform. But they could use photos of themselves in uniform for campaign materials, he found, and answer questions from the public in uniform and on duty.

The relevant state law has changed since 1994. However, Daley said the current law essentially codifies things from certain opinions of the commission. There is no more recent opinion that applies to this current law.

Kyle Langvardt, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the changes appeared to make the law more explicit.

Current states of law that public officials and employees may not use or authorize the use of public resources for the purpose of campaigning for or against a candidate or ballot issue, with some exceptions.

In 1994, the NADC discovered that the sheriff’s uniform was a public resource.

Another Nebraska states of law that while no employee of the state or of a political subdivision (such as a county) may be banned for engaging in political activities outside of business hours or in the performance of official duties, he may not “engage in any political activity while wearing a uniform required by the State or any of its political subdivisions”.

Those statutes seem “very simply to prohibit this kind of uniformed campaigning,” Langvardt said.

This is particularly clear in the case of the captain, according to Langvardt. There’s a bit more ambiguity when it comes to sheriffs, he said, but the law still seems to prohibit them from campaigning in uniform.

Not all states have laws that would resolve the issue the same way, he said. But “every state has some kind of law that restricts the use of … public resources in a campaign, and I think when police departments are involved in campaigning, you know, it seems particularly dangerous or sensitive.

“It should come as no surprise that the law tries to restrict the use of a police officer’s badge or uniform in campaigning for a candidate.”

You don’t want to give the impression that the government or the police department, in particular, is endorsing a candidate and putting a “big thumb on the scales,” he said. And whatever the intention, it can create that look.

Advisory opinions such as the one Daley referred to were born out of a formal process: someone asks for an opinion, NADC staff draft an opinion proposal, the public can weigh in on the project, and the full committee votes on it.

“If a member of the public was concerned and wanted to file a complaint, we would definitely raise the matter,” Daley said. And, he said, if a candidate wanted to request an opinion for the purpose of planning their future announcements, the commission would respond to that request.

He could not confirm whether anyone had filed a complaint about the Herbster ad, he said, because that process is confidential.

Law enforcement officers appear in at least one other job candidate ad across the state this election season: an ad for state Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, who is running for district attorney. general.

This ad features footage of Hilgers speaking to a group of apparent law enforcement officials. They wear matching polo shirts, not uniforms. A campaign spokesperson said the decision was made by the Omaha Police Officers Association.

Tony Conner, president of the association, confirmed that it was his decision. He said he always wanted to keep a clear distinction between when he wears a uniform and represents the vision of the police chief and when he represents the OPOA and can speak politically.

It’s not the first time in recent history that law enforcement in the Omaha area has been careful to draw a line between their time on duty and their off-duty political activity.

The City of Omaha ordinance prohibits city employees from “actively” participating in any political campaign. But he specifies that an employee can “exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion”.

Last year, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer endorsed Mayor Jean Stothert’s re-election while trying to separate that endorsement from his role as a public servant. He was wearing dress clothes rather than his uniform for the announcement, and he said he had taken time off and was not there in an official capacity.

This story has been updated to note that the campaign said it pulled the ad in question on Thursday ahead of the World-Herald investigation.

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