Click here to watch last week's World-Herald GOP Senate debate.
* * *
As a Republican candidate for Senate, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning opposes the Democratic plan to curb pollution known as cap and trade.
As a private investor, Bruning once stood to profit from the plan championed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
In 2007, Bruning invested in a holding company, Nebraska Heavy Industries II, founded by a childhood friend. A year later that company started a business in anticipation of the passage of cap-and-trade legislation.
The idea was to help farmers and others sell the carbon credits created by the law.
Bruning and his childhood friend, Ben Harris of Lincoln, both described the attorney general as a “passive investor.” But the campaign of one Bruning rival says the business venture raises questions about Bruning's core conservative principles.
Aaron Trost, the campaign manager for State Sen. Deb Fischer, questioned how Bruning could publicly oppose cap and trade while being in a position to make money off the plan that earned the ire of many rank-and-file Republicans.
“While conservatives were fighting against this job-killing program that would heavily increase energy costs, Jon Bruning decided to invest in a business that would profit off of it,” said Trost. “People are tired of Jon Bruning's ideological inconsistencies and incessant conflicts of interest.”
Bruning dismissed the criticism in a short press release, saying he had no direct input into how Nebraska Heavy Industries II invested his money.
“He was a passive investor and not involved in the day-to-day operations of each business. He also was not involved in placing the investment,” said Trent Fellers, Bruning's campaign manager.
The race's third major candidate, State Treasurer Don Stenberg, declined to comment.
“I think this speaks for itself,” said Dan Parsons, Stenberg's spokesman.
Bruning, Stenberg and Fischer are running for the GOP Senate nomination in next Tuesday's primary. One of the three will face Democrat Bob Kerrey in the fall. All are fighting for the seat occupied by retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Bruning's outside business interests have stirred controversy and discussion throughout the campaign. Over the past decade Bruning has owned parts of at least 17 limited liability companies, including a Botox spa, several banks and storage facilities.
In many of the business deals, Bruning has invested with former high school and college friends. His investment in Nebraska Heavy Industries II follows that pattern.
Harris has known Bruning since the two were teenagers and attended Lincoln Southeast High School. Harris said he doesn't remember exactly who approached whom in Bruning's initial investment, whether he asked Bruning to invest or Bruning approached him, but he said Bruning became an investor in December 2007.
From the beginning, Harris said it was understood that Bruning would have no voice in day-to-day decisions, including how the company invested his money.
About six months after Bruning invested in the company, it started Nebraska's first carbon-credit company, called SunOne Solutions. The idea was to help farmers and other landowners develop land-management projects that would make them eligible for carbon credits.
At the time, Democrats and others were working on introducing a bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gases by creating a cap-and-trade system. The idea was to give polluters a fixed number of carbon credits. If they found ways to reduce emissions, they could then sell their unused credits on the open market.
The bill passed the U.S. House and stalled after it ran into steep national opposition from Republicans, including Bruning.
Bruning opposed Obama's bill, saying it would have amounted to a tax hike. “The reality of this is we're simply going to tack those costs onto consumers,” he said in a 2009 article in Legal Newsline.
Harris said Bruning had no involvement in the creation of SunOne Solutions. SunOne Solutions also was a “very, very small” portion of the company's portfolio, he said.
Bruning sold his interest in the company in May 2010, around the same time he divested himself of his stake in the Botox spa. He announced his bid for the Senate six months later.
Contact the writer:
Watch last week's World-Herald GOP Senate debate.