Could it be a crime to give your fellow Americans a chance to enjoy a theatrical screening of that modern American myth, It's a Wonderful Life?
The Nebraska Republican Party thinks it is. Or at least it thinks it of political benefit to say it is, in their quest to unseat one of America's few sitting Libertarian state legislators, state Sen. Laura Ebke.
Ebke switched her party allegiance from GOP to L.P. in 2016, and she's up for reelection as a Libertarian in 2018. The Republicans are running Al Riskowski, a man who formerly ran the Nebraska Family Alliance. That's a conservative activist group obsessed with the legalities of gambling, gender identity, suicide, and "human trafficking."
Ebke sponsored two screenings of the movie to celebrate the revival of a local theater in her hometown that had gone under when the switch to digital projection swept the industry. On Friday, the state GOP denounced the events in a press release. "Not only is Ebke in potential violation of state law herself for attempting to bribe voters," the email declared, "but she is also putting those who attend the screenings at risk of committing a violation as well."
By giving voters a free movie, the Republicans claim, Ebke is bribing voters. That's a class II misdemeanor under state law, punishable by six months in jail and a thousand-buck fine. And so is accepting such a bribe.
Undeterred, Ebke held two more screenings in other towns after the threat went out, and she has two more planned ahead.
In a phone interview today, Ebke says that "we read the rules" and that the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) "says that it's acceptable to use campaign contributions for social events for constituents." She notes that the governor does something comparable when he hosts tailgate parties.
"I consulted with my campaign treasurer, who is also an attorney, and he agreed. So we proceeded. When that email blast [from the state GOP] came out Friday, my first call was to the executive director of the NADC to make sure there wasn't something I was missing. He sort of laughed when I told him I was being accused of bribery. He said as long as there is no quid pro quo, that I'm not holding out popcorn until someone promised to vote for me," the shows are fine. Ebke says she isn't even talking politics at the screenings.
"It was a pretty desperate effort on the GOP's part," she concludes.
The Omaha World-Herald reports that the Republicans "are reviewing the situation to determine whether to pursue any legal action."
While Ebke says the Republicans have done no real messaging against her—this silly stunt is their first big public swing at her so far—the state GOP has taken the unusual step of sending the governor and lieutenant governor out on the stumps with Riskowski, presenting the message that Nebraska needs "more conservatives" in the legislature.
Ebke says neither she nor any constituent she's met takes this threat at all seriously, though she wouldn't put it past the GOP to go ahead and file some sort of complaint with the NADC. If they do, she's confident that it will go nowhere.
Bonus libertarian perspective: TV host Kennedy explains why she digs It's a Wonderful Life in libertarian terms.