LINCOLN — An Ohio-based group that poured more than $2.3 million into fighting Nebraska’s casino gambling measures last fall will pay a record-breaking fee for missing a campaign finance report deadline.
But the fee would have been 10 times larger if not for action by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission last week.
Commission members voted 6-3 at their June 4 meeting to grant a request for relief from Collective Prosperity. They reduced the fee to $23,130, down from the original $231,300 that was determined by a formula in state law.
The reduced amount is still the largest fee ever imposed for filing a single campaign finance report late, according to Frank Daley, the commission’s executive director.
“That is still an incredibly high late filing fee,” he said. “Typically, people making contributions that large are paying more attention.”
Collective Prosperity, based in Dublin, Ohio, was one of two donors to Keep the Good Life, an organization that mounted an unsuccessful effort to defeat the trio of gambling initiatives on the November ballot. The other donor was Gov. Pete Ricketts, an ardent gambling opponent who gave $250,000.
State law requires corporations, unions, trade associations or professional associations based outside of Nebraska to file out-of-state contribution reports if they give more than $10,000 a year to a Nebraska campaign.
Collective Prosperity did not submit its reports until Feb. 24 and March 8, well past the filing deadlines. The reports were not sent until after the campaign finance agency sent two reminder letters. No explanation of the delay was provided publicly.
Attempts to reach David Lopez, an Omaha attorney who argued Collective Prosperity’s case to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission, were unsuccessful, as was a message sent to Rob Phillips III, an Ohio attorney listed as the group’s agent.
Daley said Collective Prosperity sought relief from the late fees by arguing that the original amount was excessive and would create an undue hardship on the entity. The commission granted relief in that case and three others considered earlier this month. None were denied.
Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska found the commission’s decision troubling. He said it seems “strange” that a shadowy out-of-state organization would put so much money into a Nebraska ballot issue, miss the deadline for reporting its donations and then ask for relief.
“It looks like just another dark money game, and we’ll never know who was behind it,” Gould said.
The out-of-state contribution filing gives little information about Collective Prosperity. Ohio business records show that Phillips incorporated the entity as a nonprofit in 2017, using a post office box number tied to his law firm.
He is president of HenryAlan, a political compliance firm that was acquired by Axiom Strategies in 2018. A press release at the time described Axiom as the “largest Republican political consulting firm in the country.”
Republican politicians across Nebraska pay Axiom for services such as “consulting” and “design.” Ricketts’ gubernatorial committee is among those that have hired Axiom. In 2020, the Pete Ricketts for Governor committee paid Axiom roughly $103,350 for services, according to campaign disclosure documents. In 2019, the committee paid Axiom $145,511.
According to the release, HenryAlan focuses on back-office needs of campaigns, “including all filing requirements for the FEC and state ethics, caging, accounting, cash management, donor management, reporting, human resources, contract review and budget management for both statewide and federal races, as well as for Super PACs.”