A $100,000 grant awarded to a Nebraska agriculture organization has been the center of criticism and debate for Republican Jon Bruning, the Nebraska Attorney General currently running for Congress.
The Associated Press reports that the grant awarded to We Support Agriculture in early December has stirred growing concerns over why the GOP Senate hopeful awarded the money from a cash pool intended for environmental issues. The group is a farm industry coalition created to promote positive livestock-raising practices and counter criticism by animal-rights activists such as the Humane Society of the United State.
Bruning defends the grant, pointing out that the group would help education Nebraskans about land stewardship.
His critics aren’t convinced. They question whether it’s appropriate to finance the efforts of the private, pro-agriculture group with environmental funds.
“It strikes me as odd, particularly when this coalition doesn’t have any record on environmental issues,” Ken Winston, the Nebraska Sierra Club’s policy advocate said. “It also seems odd if this money is going to an entity that has any kind of political purpose.”
Soon after the grant was announced in early December, Democrats quickly examined the move, asking whether there could be a political element to the group’s spending and activities.
According to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Jay Rempe of the Farm Bureau said We Support agriculture submitted the application for the grant with the understanding it would be used for an education campaign and efforts to “raise awareness about livestock and the lengths that farmers and ranchers go to protect their animals.
State Senator Ken Haar has asked Bruning for answers about the contribution. Haar, a member of the Legislature’s National Resource Committee, was less comfortable with the arrangement.
"We need to find out what the process is for awarding that money," Haar said. "Right now it leaves the appearance that the attorney general is gifting an organization. It doesn't feel right."
While Rempe acknowledged that We Support Agriculture does raise money as one objective and at could focus on political elements at some point. Rempe emphasized that none of the $100,000 grant would be spent on political purposes.
"This money will be separated out and segregated out and it will only go to educational efforts," Rempe said.
Even supporters of the We Support Agriculture question how the group qualifies for the state money.
“If this was the Nebraska Sierra Club, would the attorney general be giving them $100,000?” Nebraska Senator Heath Mello said. “That’s what I want to find out: Who has discretion here? Where does the money go? Is there a process in place? Is it transparent?”
The Nebraska Democratic Party has asked Bruning to stop awarding such grants while in the Senate race.
A Nebraska Farm Bureau endorsement could give a major boost to candidates vying for Congress. Republican Governor Dave Heineman credited endorsements from the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Right to Life and the National Rifle Association for helping him win the 2006 gubernatorial primary campaign against then-U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.