OPINION NUMBER - 118
ADOPTED - 1988/12/02
SUBJECT - Campaign Financing; use of campaign funds.
REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Jacklyn J. Smith, State Senator, District #33
QUESTION: May a State Senator contribute campaign funds to a school for use in a 4-H project?
Yes, see Analysis.
A State Senator has been requested to contribute $200 to a school 4-H Bucket Calf Project. We are informed that although this project is under the direction of the 4-H program, it is considered a school project. The funds will be used for the care and maintenance of calves. Five students will be directly involved in the project by caring for the animals and keeping records. However, all of the school students are expected to benefit from the experience of raising the calves. The Senator wishes to know if such a contribution would be a permissible expenditure of campaign funds.
Section 49-1419 defines expenditure in part as "a payment, donation, loan, pledge, or promise of payment of money or anything of ascertainable monetary value for goods, materials, services, or facilities in assistance of, or in opposition to, the nomination or election of a candidate or the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question".
Section 49-1446.01 states that:
No committee, other than a political party committee, may expend or transfer funds except to make an expenditure . . .or as provided in this section. Any committee, including a political party committee, may: (1) Make expenditures or transfer funds after any election for: . . .(f) gifts of acknowledgement, including flowers and charitable contributions, except that gifts to any one natural person shall not exceed fifty dollars in any one calendar year; . . .
A review of the provisions of Section 49-1446.01(1)(f) requires attention to detail. It refers to "gifts of acknowledgement" which seems to mean a limited category of gifts. However, the phrase goes on to include the words "including flowers and charitable contributions". While the term flowers is consistent with the notion that the term gifts of acknowledgement is a limited category of gifts, the term charitable contributions is not. The only manner in which these three terms can be consistent is by interpreting the term "gifts of acknowledgement" in a broad sense. That is, the term would need to be interpreted as something more than the recognition by the giver of the gift of a service or deed done by the receiver for the giver. It is therefore our belief that the term "gifts of acknowledgement" as used in Section 49-1446.01(1)(f) refers to a very general category of gifts.
The next consideration involves the amount which is to be contributed. Section 49-1446.01(1)(f) limits gifts to any one natural person to $50 in any one calendar year. The proposed contribution is $200. We note that the check is to be made out to the Lincoln School 4-H Project. We must therefore determine whether or not the contribution is being made to a "natural person" which is subject to the $50 per year limit.
The term "natural person" is a legal term which normally refers to a human being. A natural person is to be distinguished from an "artificial person". An artificial person normally refers to certain groups of natural persons such as a corporation or certain collections of property to which the law attributes certain rights and duties. An example of the latter would be an estate. In fact, the Act has its own definition of person which includes "natural" and "artificial" persons. See Section 49-1438. Political subdivisions of a state may also be considered artificial persons. Lancaster County v. Trimble 34 NEB 752m 52 NW 711 (1892). It is clear that the school and program in question is not a natural person.
While the reason for distinguishing between a natural person and an artificial person in this limitation is not clear, it is clear that the Legislature gave consideration to the matter. Section 49-1446.01 was enacted through LB134 in 1981. The language found in LB134 is the same as that found today in Section 49-1446.01(1)(f). However, during floor debate on the bill, an amendment was adopted which differs from the language of Section 49-1446.01(1)(f). This amendment referred to "gifts of acknowledgement, including flowers and charitable contributions, provided that gifts to any one person or charity shall not exceed $50 in any one calendar year". The amendment, which was introduced by Senator Lowell Johnson, did not distinguish between "natural persons" and "artificial persons". However, a later amendment to the amendment by Senator DeCamp established the distinction.
Given the foregoing Legislative history one must conclude that the Legislature considered whether such a distinction should be made and determined it should be made.
Given the fact that the term "gifts of acknowledgement" must be broadly interpreted and the fact that neither the school nor the program can be considered a "natural person", a contribution of $200 may be given to the school 4-H Bucket Calf Project.