LINCOLN, Neb. — In a story Sept. 27 about beer sales in Whiteclay, The Associated Press reported erroneously that a dinner event sponsored by Project Extra Mile had four speakers. The event had one speaker.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Whiteclay activists decry Nebraska beer industry donations
Activists who want to end beer sales in a Nebraska village on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are criticizing state officials for accepting political contributions from the alcohol industry
By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. — Activists who want to end beer sales in a Nebraska village on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation criticized state officials Tuesday for accepting political contributions from the alcohol industry.
The activists assailed two lawmakers and State Auditor Charlie Janssen, whose office recently audited a nonprofit that has helped raise awareness about Whiteclay’s beer sales, in a report that highlighted the donations. Whiteclay’s four beer stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer last year on the border of the South Dakota reservation, where alcohol is banned.
Whiteclay documentary filmmaker John Maisch and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska member Frank LaMere released the report as activists prepare for a series of public vigils this week in Omaha and Lincoln.
“These are facts that we think the Nebraska taxpayers deserve to know,” Maisch said.
The donations from beer industry groups include $1,000 to Janssen when he was running for state auditor and $7,950 during his six years in the Legislature.
Janssen disputed the suggestion that the contributions influenced his positions as a public official and said the audit wasn’t politically motivated. The audit of Project Extra Mile was based on several anonymous tips to his office that questioned the group’s use of federal grant money, he said.
“I don’t think the audit was all that bad,” Janssen said. “Audits are supposed to be critical.”
The audit said the group’s expenses included a $4,600 dinner that was more entertainment than business, and violated federal regulations that prohibit lobbying with grant money. Project Extra Mile’s interim director disputed that the group used grant money for lobbying and argued that the cost for the dinner event with a speaker is typical for a nonprofit.
Activists singled out Sens. Sue Crawford of Bellevue and Tyson Larson of O’Neill, who both reported contributions from the alcohol industry last year. Crawford received $2,150 from various beer lobbyists last year, up from $500 in 2014. Larson, who oversees alcohol legislation as chairman of the General Affairs Committee, reported $11,025 in donations in 2015, compared to $1,500 the year before.
Larson said the contributions from the beer industry have “absolutely nothing” to do with his stance on Whiteclay, which remains unchanged. He said he doesn’t believe closing the beer stores will solve the problem, but he’s willing to work on other proposals that promote economic development in the region.
“It should be a multi-faceted approach,” said Larson, whose district includes land owned by three Indian tribes. “You can’t create statewide policy based on one situation, and that’s what (the Whiteclay activists) want.”
Crawford said her donations increased because she started holding more fundraisers to prepare for her 2016 re-election campaign. The donations from alcohol interests are “a very small percentage of the money that comes into my campaign” and don’t influence how she votes, she said.
Crawford said she visited Whiteclay with Maisch and LaMere in 2015 to learn more about the situation and concluded that addressing the problems would require a larger coalition of lawmakers.
She said she still supports efforts to promote economic development in the area and provide services to those who need them, but it’s unrealistic to expect that one lawmaker can single-handedly fix the problems.
“It’s really important not to criticize someone for trying to learn about an issue,” she said.