Raybould questions Sen. Fischer’s rising net worth; Fischer says integrity is under attack

September 6, 2018

Democratic Senate candidate Jane Raybould is escalating her attacks on Republican Sen. Deb Fischer’s votes, corporate campaign donations and personal finances.

Fischer’s camp declined to respond to a new television ad from Raybould or Raybould’s comments during a conference call Wednesday with reporters. The Fischer campaign instead referred reporters to the senator’s comments during and after the Aug. 27 World-Herald/KMTV debate.

That’s when Fischer called Raybould’s attacks a low point in their debate, saying that she values her integrity and does not appreciate having her character assailed by a candidate desperate for attention.

Raybould, a Lincoln grocery store executive, called Fischer “corrupt” on the debate stage. Her campaign created a website labeling Fischer a “Senator for Sale.” And Raybould asked Fischer to explain how her net worth had increased while in office.

Raybould has pointed to a set of financial forms meant to disclose the wealth and conflicts of interest of members of Congress. She asked why an Open Secrets report, based on those financial forms, showed Fischer’s wealth growing from $300,000 in 2012, when she was elected to the Senate, to more than $4 million this year.

But the financial disclosure forms that Congress uses don’t get that specific. The forms set out financial ranges for assets, debts, income and other liabilities and do not require members to disclose specific totals.

For example, in Fischer’s case, her liabilities in 2012 included a 2005 mortgage for the family ranch that was listed in the range of $1 million to $5 million. That mortgage is now listed in the range of $500,000 to $1 million.

Such changes can lead to wild swings in members’ reported wealth because many groups that calculate the wealth of individual members of Congress use the midpoint of these ranges.

One example of the complexities of Congress’ financial reporting was the 2016 financial disclosure report from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. The form showed a significant increase in Fortenberry’s assets and liabilities, which he said stemmed from his purchase of a minority stake in a Lincoln strip mall.

Something similar affected Fischer’s disclosure form for her Valentine-area ranch, she said. Fischer said after last week’s debate that the nature of the business means ranchers might be flush with cash one minute — after the sale of cattle or after a cash-flow loan distributes money. At other times, ranchers might be cash poor, she said, including before cattle are sold.

Raybould said Wednesday that Fischer’s explanations of her personal finances aren’t good enough. She called on Fischer to release her income taxes from 2012 on. If Fischer does, she said, she would release her tax returns as well.

Reporters asked Raybould during the conference call whether she had any evidence of corruption or self-enrichment by Fischer. Raybould offered none, saying that Fischer’s votes and donors raised questions, as did her increased net worth.

Fischer’s campaign has thus far declined to release her tax returns.

Raybould’s latest attacks followed months of her criticizing the Fischer campaign for accepting donations from political action committees, which typically give more money to incumbents. Raybould has said she won’t accept corporate PAC money.

Raybould has hinted for weeks that several of Fischer’s Senate votes might be compromised, citing donations from health care providers, insurance companies and railroad companies.

Fischer’s camp dismissed those comments at the time, and Raybould recently acknowledged that all three industries are important to Nebraska’s economy and that any sitting senator would probably receive donations from them.

And several of the Democratic groups steering money to Raybould’s campaign receive much, if not all, of their funding from corporate donations, based on Federal Election Commission filings.

For example, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s IMPACT PAC, which gave Raybould $10,000, counts among its donors drug companies such as Pfizer, Novartis and Merck and health insurance companies such as Aetna and Anthem.

By not accepting donations directly from corporate PACs, Raybould would not owe loyalty to any of those corporate donors, said Brandon Weathersby, a Raybould campaign spokesman. World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.

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