LINCOLN — Charles Herbster personally bankrolled $4.7 million of the $4.9 million he raised last year in his bid for the GOP governor’s nomination.
His top primary opponent, Jim Pillen, gave his own campaign $1 million. But Pillen raised another $4.4 million from individual donors, for a total of $5.4 million.
Herbster’s self-funding puts him in rarefied air surpassed only by Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2006, when Ricketts loaned his U.S. Senate campaign $12 million of the $13 million it raised.
Ricketts, who lost that year to incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson, said he hasn’t forgotten why: Self-funding looks to many Nebraskans like “you’re trying to buy the race,” he told the Nebraska Examiner on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, that’s not a successful strategy,” said Ricketts, who endorsed Pillen last month. “You want to engage Nebraskans across the state to invest in your campaign. And clearly Charles Herbster is not getting Nebraskans to invest in his campaign.”
Herbster said Nebraskans should view his personal contributions to his campaign as financial independence from special interests.
“My time in this campaign is not spent fundraising, it’s spent learning about the people of Nebraska,” Herbster said in a statement. “For this reason, I am primarily self-funding this campaign. I refuse to let donors control my priorities or legislative agenda.”
Herbster, an agribusiness and roofing company owner from Falls City, raised $200,000 from individual donors in 2021, campaign finance statements show. Half of those dollars came from out of state.
Pillen, who runs a large hog operation based in Columbus, raised a lot of his money from Omaha business leaders. Of his 1,393 donors, 95% listed Nebraska addresses.
“Our supporters are amazing, and the strength of Team Pillen throughout Nebraska is one of the reasons we’re going to win this race,” Pillen said in a statement.
Both candidates’ fundraising totals eclipsed Ricketts’ record for off-year fundraising in a Nebraska governor’s race, set in 2017. Ricketts raised $1.7 million that year.
Herbster reported having $637,000 cash on hand at the end of the year. He spent more than $4 million in 2021, mainly on political consultants, television ads and digital advertising. Those investments helped him build his name ID and an early lead in primary polling.
Pillen reported having $4.2 million in cash at year’s end. He’s ramping up TV spending now, with a pair of ads, including one showing him with a shotgun in a field. He’s been in second place in primary polling.
In a field of seven Republican candidates, only two others reported raising more than six figures last year.
Omaha State Sen. Brett Lindstrom posted a $1.6 million fundraising total. Much of that came from his ties to the Omaha tech industry.
A number of Nebraska campaign consultants told the Nebraska Examiner that level of funding makes Lindstrom competitive. His campaign manager, Tori Mahoney, said his “new generation of conservative leadership” is resonating with voters. Lindstrom had $1.4 million cash on hand at year’s end, and he launched his first TV ad late last month.
“Nebraskans deserve to have their voice represented by someone who has earned, not bought it,” Mahoney said.
Former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, an Omaha businesswoman who got into the race in November, raised $113,000 by the end of the year and had $87,000 cash on hand.
“I am grateful and humbled by the confidence placed in me by my fellow Nebraskans, who have and continue to give generously to this effort,” Thibodeau said.
Three other Republican candidates didn’t raise the $5,000 minimum that triggers the need to file campaign finance reports with the state.
The lone Democrat in the governor’s race, State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, raised $76,000 in 2021 and had $37,000 cash on hand.
Nebraska’s primary election is May 10. Early voting starts in April.
All five major candidates are expected to participate in a candidate forum Thursday in Lincoln hosted by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce.
Charles Herbster (R) Total raised: $4.9 million Total given by candidate: $4.7 million Total spent: $4.3 million Jim Pillen (R) Total raised: $5.4 million Total given by candidate: $1 million Total spent: $1.3 million Brett Lindstrom (R) Total raised: $1.6 million Total given by candidate: $0 Total spent: $362,000 Theresa Thibodeau (R) Total raised: $112,000 Total given by candidate: $7,000 Total spent: $26,000 Carol Blood (D) Total raised: $76,000 Total given by candidate: $100 Total spent: $39,000 Source: State of Nebraska
2021 fundraising in Nebraska governor’s race
Charles Herbster (R)
Total raised: $4.9 million
Total given by candidate: $4.7 million
Total spent: $4.3 million
Jim Pillen (R)
Total raised: $5.4 million
Total given by candidate: $1 million
Total spent: $1.3 million
Brett Lindstrom (R)
Total raised: $1.6 million
Total given by candidate: $0
Total spent: $362,000
Theresa Thibodeau (R)
Total raised: $112,000
Total given by candidate: $7,000
Total spent: $26,000
Carol Blood (D)
Total raised: $76,000
Total given by candidate: $100
Total spent: $39,000
Source: State of Nebraska
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