York County sheriff fined for appearing in uniform in political ad for Herbster

By: - January 20, 2023 12:34 pm
Buffalo County Sheriff's Office

Law enforcement officers, and other public officials, are barred from using public resources, like an official uniform, in a campaign advertisement. (Courtesy of the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office)

LINCOLN — York County Sheriff Paul Vrbka will pay a $1,000 fine for violating a state prohibition on appearing in political advertisements in uniform.

The Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Commission on Friday approved the civil penalty against the sheriff, who, along with three other Nebraska sheriffs, appeared in a televised campaign advertisement in February and March urging a vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster.

Vrbka, when contacted Friday, said that if he had been aware of the law, he would not have appeared in the ad.

‘Learned my lesson’

He said he had seen other law enforcement officers in other ads and figured it was OK.

 “I guess I learned my lesson,” said Vrkba, who was just re-elected to a second term serving the eastern Nebraska county.

The law bars public officials from using “public resources” to campaign, resources that include “personnel, property, resources, or funds….”

Thia Hartley, a Lincoln resident who filed a complaint with the NADC against Vrbka, said she was glad the ad was taken down after she raised the issue.

Follow the law

“We count on law enforcement to follow the law, not trample over it,” Hartley said.

She said she filed the complaint against Vrbka because he was one of the more visible sheriffs in the TV spot. Hartley said she may now file complaints against the other law enforcement officials in the ad.

Vrbka said he was alerted by a fellow sheriff that appearing in the ad was probably a violation and then contacted the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Frank Daley, the executive director of the NADC, said Friday he could not recall that the violation had been self-reported, adding that the fine was the result of the citizen complaint.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.