Osborn used 'broad brush' to describe state Treasurer duties

Nebraska Republican Senate candidate Shane Osborn described his duties as state Treasurer as broader than they actually were during his time in office.

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The revelation that he may have exaggerated his role could provide fodder to attacks from supporters of his main opponent in the GOP primary, Midland University President Ben Sasse.

His campaign website declares that while serving as Nebraska state Treasurer from 2007-11, Osborn was charged with “managing $9 billion in transactions and $16 billion in pension investments, as well as overseeing unclaimed property and the Nebraska College Savings Plan.”

But a 2009 comprehensive annual financial report for the state and former state Treasurer Dawn Rockey indicate that’s an exaggeration.

“The State Treasurer is the custodian of all funds for the State; however, investments are under the responsibility of the Nebraska Investment Council or other administrative bodies as determined by law,” the CAFR reads.

Osborn campaign spokesman Bill Novotny pointed to a picture of the 2008 Nebraska Investment Council that included the candidate, then state Treasurer, as evidence he did engage in decision-making surrounding the state’s pension investments.

"As Nebraska’s Treasurer, Shane Osborn served on the Nebraska State Investment Council, which oversees the state’s pension investments.  In this, his responsibility was to help protect taxpayer funds and ensure a solid return on investment. As a fiscal conservative, this is exactly what he did," said Novotny.

However, the state Treasurer operates as an ex-officio, or non-voting, member of the board.

Rockey, a former Democratic state Treasurer, told The Hill — asked only whether state Treasurers handle pension investments, not directly about Osborn’s campaign site — that the official only indirectly manages the pension fund.

“They do not in Nebraska, at least not directly. The Treasurer sits on the State Investment Council, which makes decisions about the investment of pension money, but they do not have a vote.”

And confronted with the claim from Osborn’s campaign, Rockey expressed surprise.

“I think that’s a pretty broad brush that he’s using there. The Treasurer certainly does not have direct control over the state’s pension money,” she told The Hill.

The revelation that Osborn may have exaggerated his duties as state Treasurer could give fodder to detractors who have already attacked him as “dishonest.”

That was the word used to describe him in an attack ad out from the 60 Plus Association highlighting his campaign’s reported circulation of an official-looking memo defending his Naval service that turned out to be written as a favor to a friend of Osborn’s.

Sasse’s campaign declined to comment on the details.

Meanwhile, two stations have taken the ad off-air after Osborn's campaign requested it be removed because, as his campaign attorney wrote in a letter to television stations in the state, it “contains materially false statements” concerning Osborn.

The letter, obtained by The Hill, points in particular to the suggestion repeated by a number of the veterans featured in the ad that Osborn himself created the memo backing up his military service. It was in fact written by a Navy commander.

Garret Marquis, a spokesman for the 60 Plus Association, confirmed that two Nebraska stations, KLKN and KETV, have taken the ad off the air. But he said that the group is working with the stations to relaunch the ads, "providing them the information that all the other stations have found sufficient" to support the claims in the ad.

"The bottom line is we stand by the ads. The ads are the voice of veterans across the state," he said.

—This piece was updated at 6:45 p.m. to reflect details surrounding the 60 Plus Association ad.