Omaha chamber's PAC gives $18K to pro-business OPS candidates - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:25 pm
Omaha chamber's PAC gives $18K to pro-business OPS candidates

To find more information about the candidates for the Omaha Public Schools board, go to omaha.com/ops.

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Omaha's business community is no longer sitting on the sidelines while teachers unions and individuals lend financial support to their favorite candidates for the Omaha Public Schools board.

The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce this year created its own political action committee to support candidates with a pro-business outlook.

So far, that committee has provided a total of $18,000 to candidates Justin Wayne, Lou Ann Goding, Katie Underwood, Marque Snow, Matt Scanlan and Jeff Miller.

The goal is to put people with leadership skills, new perspectives and business savvy on the school board, said Wendy Boyer, the chamber's senior vice president of community investment and advocacy.

“I think we're all concerned about the credibility of the board and the trust and confidence that the community has in the school district,” she said. “We know how important it is that the Omaha Public Schools be successful.”

The Greater Omaha Chamber PAC had raised more than $50,000 as of the March 18 campaign reporting deadline.

Sizable contributions came from Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co., ConAgra Foods, Walter Scott Jr., Union Pacific Railroad and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.

The chamber's new engagement in school politics reflects a growing realization that quality of life and economic growth are tied to a strong school district, Boyer said.

Chamber members this year also actively recruited candidates, encouraging people who were not former OPS employees and who had different perspectives and experiences, including leadership, finance and management, she said.

The chamber recruited Goding, Underwood, Snow, Scanlan and Woody Bradford.

Miller wasn't initially recruited, but the chamber later decided to support him. It also supports Wayne, an incumbent, and might decide to support other candidates as the race continues, Boyer said.

Bradford, who is leading the pack in fundraising among OPS candidates, didn't request financial help from the chamber, Boyer said.

Snow and Scanlan each received $5,000 from the PAC. Wayne, Goding and Underwood got $2,500 apiece, and Miller received $500.

Wayne said that for more than a year he has been talking with chamber members about the district's impact on the rest of the city.

To solve Omaha's education problems, the business community has to be “at the table,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is the Omaha Public Schools is one of the largest human capital producers in the state of Nebraska,” Wayne said. “You can't have jobs, you can't have a growing economy, unless our education system is strong. That's not political talking points, that's what I really believe.”

Allying with business can help OPS align some of its curriculum with jobs of the future, he said.

Boyer said that for now, the PAC is focusing money on school board candidates, reflecting the high level of public interest created by recent board missteps and state lawmakers shrinking the board from 12 to nine members and ordering new elections.

Eventually, the PAC could be a vehicle for backing candidates for other government offices, particularly next year with a race for governor and 19 incumbent state senators turned out by term limits, Boyer said.

“From the chamber's perspective, the Omaha Public Schools system is very important to us as we recruit and retain businesses here, and also talent,” she said.

People pondering a move to Omaha want good schools, she said.

Chamber leaders started thinking about creating a PAC about two years ago, not wanting to rely on other PACs.

The independent Nebraska-PAC has in the past attracted donations from large Nebraska businesses. However, its money has largely gone to candidates for Nebraska Legislature and, to a lesser extent, city and county races.

Business leaders naturally support candidates who favor a tax and regulatory environment favorable to business, she said. But there is a growing understanding among business leaders that workforce and talent are a key driver to the economy, she said.

One goal was to make sure no OPS candidates ran unopposed, she said. Between 2004 and 2010, candidates for 14 seats were unopposed.

The chamber also co-sponsored with The World-Herald a series of forums with OPS candidates.

Miller, who's running in Subdistrict 5, said he's happy to get chamber backing.

He is owner and president of Speedbinder, a company that makes custom loose-leaf binders. He said he's been a chamber member for about 10 years, attending its functions for several years.

“I'm pleased to see them taking an interest in this race,” he said. “I'm pleased to see them helping the community in general put a greater amount of emphasis on OPS governance.”

He said he hopes school board races will one day be treated as important as City Council races.

“I hope that this isn't a one-time thing where this particular election gets a lot of attention and then it fades back into the old pattern,” he said.

He said the money will help pay for yard signs and mailings to get his message out.

“Those aren't cheap,” he said. “Just the postage on one mailing, with the targeted mailing list that we do, is about $2,000.”

The N.P. Dodge Co., which has weighed in financially on a number of elections over the years, gave to both the chamber committee and to Bradford.

N.P. “Sandy” Dodge, a former member of the Omaha Public Power District board, said the election offers a unique opportunity.

“There's so much interest now because all of us are interested in the school district and seeing that it has good, comprehensive leadership that will produce good outcomes for our kids,” he said.

Dodge lives in the Westside school district. But OPS is a “key positive,” he said, in making the city a place where people want to live.

As for Bradford, he said, he has a “high regard” for his friend of at least 40 years. “He's bright, he's honest, he's energetic and he has the interests of Omaha, as far as the school district is concerned, at heart,” Dodge said.

Of all OPS board candidates, Bradford had amassed the biggest campaign war chest, nearly $28,000, as of the reporting deadline.

Meantime, the Omaha Education Association, which is the union that represents OPS teachers, held back on funding or formally recommending candidates in the primary, said association president Chris Proulx.

The organization routinely has done both in past elections, both at the primary and general levels.

This time around, however, it came down to a numbers game.

With nine districts up for election, 39 candidates running and time being short, Proulx said, “We didn't feel like we'd have the ability to thoroughly vet everybody.”

Nor did the organization feel it had the resources to back recommendations with funding at this stage, Proulx said.

The organization gathered some information through its own primary forums. Proulx said the union plans to go through a more formal vetting process after Tuesday's primary.

In addition to funding candidates, the union has the capacity to put “boots on the ground,” such as providing people to help with door-to-door canvassing or phone banks. That will be a challenge for the May 14 general election, given 18 candidates in nine subdistricts.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com



Nine of 39 board candidates meet donation threshold before primary


Nine of the 39 candidates for the Omaha school board met a threshold requiring them to report donations to their campaigns before the primary, either collecting $5,000 by the latest filing deadline or having an existing campaign committee.

They listed the following receipts for the reporting period of Feb. 28 through March 18:

Woody Bradford

Total receipts this period: $28,000

Contributions greater than $250: L.F. Amis, $1,000; Dana Bradford, $15,000; Hal and Mary Daub, $500; Deryl Hamann, $500; John Hughes, $300; Bruce Lauritzen, $1,000; Jack and Kathryn Lewis, $500; Robert Owen, $500; Ray Pape, $1,000; Lawrence B. Thomas, $1,000; Michael Yanney, $500.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: N.P. Dodge Co., $5,000.

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Lou Ann Goding

Total receipts this period: $11,700

Contributions greater than $250: Lou Ann Goding, $5,000; James Austad, $250; Thomas Goding, $250; Steve Kenney, $250; Charles C. Myers, $1,000; John T. Reed; $500; Michael H. Simmonds, $1,000.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $2,500.

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Matt Scanlan

Total receipts this period: $10,150

Contributions greater than $250: L.F. Amis, $1,000; Bruce Lauritzen, $1,000; Dee Owen, $1,000; Ray Pape, $1,000; Luke Wilwerding, $300.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $5,000.

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Justin Wayne

Total receipts this period: $9,500.

Contributions greater than $250: L.F. Amis, $1,000; Ray Pape, $1,000; J. Joseph Ricketts, $5,000.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $2,500.

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Katie Underwood

Total receipts this period: $8,725

Contributions greater than $250: L.F. Amis, $1,000; Allan Lozier, $1,000; Terry Neddenriep, $500; Ray Pape, $1,000; Steven and Suzann Seline, $2,500.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $2,500.

* * * * *

Marque Snow

Total receipts this period: $7,000

Contributions greater than $250: L.F. Amis, $1,000; Ann Pape, $1,000.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $5,000.

* * * * *

Jeff Miller

Total receipts this period: $6,730

Contributions greater than $250: Hal and Mary Daub, $300; Mike Dyer, $250; William McGinn, $250; Jeffrey D. Miller, $250; Peter Ricketts, $5,000.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: Greater Omaha Chamber PAC, $500.

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Marian Fey

Total receipts this period: $5,763

Contributions greater than $250: Patricia Naylon, $400.

Contributions from businesses and PACs: none

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Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum

Total receipts this period: $1,600

Contributions greater than $250: Joe Kirshenbaum, $1,000

Contributions from businesses and PACs: none

Contact the writer: Joe Dejka

joe.dejka@owh.com    |   402-444-1077

Joe's beat is education, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school.

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