Only in a few states do voters pick among candidates for boards of public universities. Rarer still is a campaign finance dispute that leads to the impeachment and removal from office of such a board member. But that's what happened on Friday, when the Nebraska Supreme Court found C. David Hergert guilty of charges on which the Nebraska Legislature had impeached him.
Nebraska's unicameral legislature in April approved 10 articles of impeachment against Hergert, based on his successful 2004 campaign to become a regent. The crux of the impeachment charges -- and the conviction by the Supreme Court -- centers on reporting requirements. Under Nebraska's system of public financing of election campaigns, candidates must file reports when they reach certain spending thresholds -- and reaching those milestones triggers payments from state funds to the candidates' opponents. Hergert failed to file required reports and his failure to do so prevented his opponent from receiving campaign funds.
Hergert's defense was complicated because he had already admitted to state officials that he violated certain reporting requirements. He made a variety of defenses to the Supreme Court, including arguments based on the fact that most of the violations took place before he was a regent. But the Supreme Court rejected those arguments, finding that some reports he filed were an attempt to cover up the missed deadlines for earlier reports.
"In the primary and general elections, Hergert intentionally manipulated and violated Nebraska's campaign finance laws in a scheme to prevent his opponents from receiving public campaign funds," the court concluded. "During the campaign and, significantly, after he took office, Hergert intentionally filed false reports of campaign spending in an attempt to cover up his conduct. Hergert's various explanations for his actions contradict one another and are not believable when the clear and convincing evidence before this court is considered."
Hergert did not respond to messages this weekend and has not responded to interview requests from Nebraska reporters. But Nancy Hergert, his wife, told The Lincoln Journal Star that he had done nothing wrong and was proud of his work as a regent.
James E. McClurg, chairman of the Board of Regents, issued a statement after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, saying that the dispute "has been a distraction and a disruption" for the board. "It has tarnished the reputation of the board and the university, and we will work diligently to restore the public's confidence and trust," he said.
Gov. Dave Heineman will now appoint a new regent. He said he would announce plans for doing so today.