LINCOLN — Patrick Shannon, who owes the state more than $16,000 for decade-old violations of campaign laws, says he wasn't behind the dirty political trick that landed him in trouble.
The 55-year-old Bellevue businessman, who was briefly appointed Friday to the Nebraska Legislature, said this week that he was the target of a conspiracy that made it appear he mailed the flier that disparaged an opponent in a 2004 legislative race.
“I'm just their patsy that keeps getting blamed,” Shannon told The World-Herald this week during an interview at his Bellevue tax and accounting firm.
But a hearing officer for the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission presided over what amounted to a civil trial in the case in 2005.
His conclusion: Shannon acted alone.
“It is most probable that this document would have been authored by Shannon and improbable that it would have been authored by anyone else,” wrote Samuel Van Pelt, a former judge who presided over the hearing.
As a result of the finding, the commission fined Shannon $2,000 for each of eight violations. Commissioners called the violations “egregious” as they levied what amounted to their highest penalty.
Gov. Dave Heineman appointed Shannon to the 3rd District legislative seat Friday morning. Shannon withdrew from the appointment several hours after questions about the fines surfaced.
Shannon said in an email to the Governor's Office that he had to turn down the seat because his father “just suffered a heart attack” in Oklahoma and he needed to help care for his mother.
When reached by phone Tuesday at his home in Shawnee, Okla., Pat Shannon, 76, said he suffered a heart attack on Dec. 4. He said he is doing OK, but he otherwise declined to comment.
During an hourlong conversation with The World-Herald on Monday, the younger Shannon said his troubles trace back to the 2004 race for Legislature in which he ran against Abbie Cornett and Kirk Brumbaugh, who was then a Bellevue attorney.
Shannon said he filed an accountability and disclosure complaint against Brumbaugh, alleging campaign finance violations. But rather than penalizing Brumbaugh, Shannon said, the commission shelved the complaint and went after him instead.
The commission “is nothing but a lawyer protection society,” he said. “Lawyers get away with not following the laws of this state.”
When reached Tuesday, Brumbaugh, who now lives and practices in Omaha, confirmed that Shannon filed the complaint. The commission investigated but found no merit to the allegations and did not take action against him, Brumbaugh said.
Neil Danberg, the commission's legal counsel, said complaints become public record only after the commission determines that violations have occurred. Danberg said there is no record of action against Brumbaugh.
During the 2004 primary campaign, an anonymous flier titled “Domestic Abuse is on the Ballot” was sent to voters in Bellevue. It alleged domestic abuse by Brumbaugh, who was going through a highly contested divorce at the time. The flier was signed “Nebraskans for Decency.”
During the 2005 hearing into the matter, Shannon testified that one of his campaign workers was responsible for the flier, according to the hearing officer's order in the case. Shannon admitted that he made copies of the flier, stuffed them into about 7,300 envelopes and mailed them, but maintained that the worker paid him $1,300 for the job. They were mailed under a bulk permit held by one of Shannon's businesses.
Three people testified that it was Shannon who created the flier. One was the campaign worker whom Shannon accused and the second was a campaign staff member for Rep. Lee Terry, who said Shannon told her he was responsible. The third was David Kramer, who was chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party at the time.
Kramer testified that Shannon alerted him to a coming mailing that disparaged his opponent, and after the flier hit mailboxes, “Shannon claimed authorship.”
Chuck Fredrick of Bellevue testified in support of Shannon, claiming that the flier was sent by the former mayor of Bellevue. But on cross-examination, Fredrick admitted that he had no proof to back it up, according to the hearing officer's order.
When a reporter called for Shannon on Tuesday to discuss the matter further, a receptionist at his office said he would be unavailable until early January.
But on Monday he insisted that the commission failed to prove its case against him.
“If our campaign didn't have anything to do with it, it wouldn't be there,” he said. “But that wasn't the logic. The logic was because it wasn't there, we broke the rules by not reporting it. By that logic, you're responsible for the Hindenburg blowing up.”
During the Monday interview, Shannon also said the governor asked him about the fines during a roughly 40-minute face-to-face interview before the appointment. The governor wanted to know what Shannon had learned from the experience.
Heineman has declined to discuss details of the appointment process, saying his priority is to find another appointee for seat.
Records in Sarpy County and the Secretary of State's Office indicate that Shannon has had tax liens placed on his medical billing business and his home. The records indicate that some of the liens have been paid off and at least one has not.
When the Accountability and Disclosure Commission sought to seize Shannon's assets for payment of the fines, it was unable to find any assets not under lien.
In a 2012 legal deposition over the dispute, Shannon said he owned none of his business ventures and drew very little income because the Internal Revenue Service was garnishing his pay and military benefits.
Brumbaugh said that in addition to the commission's judgment against Shannon, he sued Shannon for libel. In 2006, he settled the lawsuit after Shannon signed a letter retracting the false statements made in the campaign mailing.