LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint Monday against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning, claiming he failed to disclose his shared ownership of a $675,000 vacation home.
The complaint to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission claims Bruning, the state attorney general, failed to disclose the shared home near Ashland in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 financial interest statements he must file as an office-holder.
Bruning owns the home through a time-share agreement with two executives from the student-loan company Nelnet. The arrangement has drawn fresh criticism as he campaigns for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. Bruning attempted to waive a $1 million settlement with Nelnet in 2007, after the company was accused of improper business practices.
Officials with Bruning's campaign said the home was properly disclosed, both in state campaign and federal tax forms and the complaint was politically motivated. Campaign manager Trent Fellers said Democratic officials are trying to divert attention from Nelson's support of the controversial federal health care reform law.
"This is all a coordinated effort from the Democrats, Ben Nelson, and the Nebraska Democrat party," Fellers said. "They're running $200,000 worth of ads, 14 months before (the general election). That's how scared they are of Jon Bruning."
Nebraska Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Lorenz said the complaint seeks to address "some serious questions about the attorney general's intentions, and whether he was trying to cover up the purchase of this cabin from the public."
Bruning is considered the frontrunner in the Republican Party's efforts to unseat Nelson. The GOP has been aggressive in targeting the lone Democrat in Nebraska's congressional delegation, but Nelson has so far raised more money than Bruning and the other GOP candidates. The complaint is the latest development in an increasingly ugly election that has drawn national attention. Democratic officials have sought to portray Bruning as not forthright about his personal finances. The Nebraska GOP has fired back that Nelson is "cowardly" and "sleazy."
Bruning assumed an ownership interest in the house on Big Sandy Lake near Ashland in 2008.
He and two businessmen bought the cabin through a limited liability corporation, a move that can limit owners' exposure to lawsuits in case of an accident. The corporation's name was disclosed as "Big Sandy Properties, LLC" in 2009, "Green Jacket Capital, LLC" in 2010, and "Sandy Properties, LLC" in 2011.
The disclosure form requires office-holders to "list all real property in your name, or in which you have a direct ownership interest. The description required must be sufficient to identify the location of the property."
But the form adds: "You need not report real estate owned by a business listed in items 6 or 7," the section where Bruning identified the companies which own the home.
Democratic officials contend in the complaint that the listing wasn't enough to comply with disclosure rules. They pointed to earlier statements in which Bruning said the home was "purely a personal transaction" under the time-share agreement.