Petition's origins tied to at least nine states
(Omaha World-Herald (NE) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 27--CHICAGO -- Who's behind a proposed Nebraska amendment requiring patients to receive food and water until death?
The trail leads to activists and attorneys in at least nine states and swirls through an office suite three blocks from the Sears Tower.
An Omaha couple filed the paperwork. Lawyers in Michigan and California helped draft the amendment.
An Idaho man funneled money to the campaign from interest groups in Illinois, New York and Virginia. A Wisconsin woman's company was paid $1.4 million to gather signatures on the humane care petition as well as another proposal to limit state spending, known as Stop Over Spending Nebraska.
None say they know why Nebraska was chosen for the humane care petition drive or who initiated it. No one has identified where the money originated.
But most have some connection to Americans for Limited Government (ALG), a Chicago-based group whose members have backed petition drives in the United States since the early 1990s.
ALG made the single largest donation to America at Its Best, the group that funneled all $835,000 contributed so far to the humane care petition drive.
But ALG is taking no credit for that effort, despite its financial stake and the active involvement of at least one of its board members.
"We have no position on the humane care measure," said John Tillman, president of ALG. "I've not even read that amendment."
The proposal would amend the Nebraska Constitution by requiring caregivers to provide food and water by any means to patients, unless they have an advance directive or living will that says otherwise. The petition drive came about a year after the family dispute over the wishes of a brain-injured Florida woman, Terri Schiavo, sparked a national debate over feeding tubes and end-of-life care.
The Nebraska secretary of state has yet to rule on whether the petition has qualified for the Nov. 7 ballot.
The humane care amendment was created and funded in a way that makes it hard to sort out its backers.
That's a problem, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Project at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center.
She asked: "Don't you have a right to know who's funding policy initiatives in your state?"
The World-Herald traced the measure's origins to the following states:
The public face of the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee is Thomas and Alexis "Lexi" Mann of Omaha. They are identified in campaign filings as treasurer and coordinator of the committee.
Thomas Mann is an attorney who runs Legal Software Consulting. Lexi Mann runs a business that arranges travel for the disabled. Thomas Mann said she recently left the campaign to tend to her business.
Mann said he met the organizers of the campaign after the petition language was drafted, but declined to name them. His contact, he said, was Steven P. Baer, who is a Chicago-area businessman.
The Manns have received $14,408 from the campaign so far for contractual services, according to campaign disclosure reports.
Mann said the amendment was drafted by Steven J. Safranek, an attorney who was raised in Omaha and who teaches at Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Wesley J. Smith, a California attorney who has written books on euthanasia and medical ethics.
Safranek and Smith said they worked on the amendment via e-mail and conference calls, but that it wasn't their idea and they don't know whose it was. They said they weren't involved in funding or running the petition drive and didn't select Nebraska as the target state.
Safranek said there had been talk of a humane care amendment percolating in pro-life circles since the spring of 2005, when Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. He said he wasn't sure how he became part of an e-mail group drafting it.
He said he was paid $1,000 or less but doesn't recall who wrote the check.
"Americans for Limited Care maybe? Or Nebraskans for Limited Care?" he said. "I mean, I'm sorry, Nebraskans for Humane Care might have been it."
Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee has not reported any payment to Safranek.
Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that supports the intelligent design theory of human origin, said he wasn't paid for his work. He said his initial contact was Baer, the Chicago businessman, sometime early this year.
Safranek said he didn't know anything about Americans for Limited Government, the group that indirectly funded the Nebraska petition drives from its downtown Chicago headquarters.
He expressed surprise when told ALG and U.S. Term Limits share several of the same leaders. Safranek was a paid consultant for U.S. Term Limits in 1997.
Baer sits on the boards of both groups.
He ran for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor in 1990 and attempted to start a tax and term limits party in 1994. He was financed in those efforts partly by Chicago industrialist Barre Seid. Baer has served on the board of Seid's foundation, which has contributed to U.S. Term Limits, religious organizations and conservative causes.
Through an exchange of e-mails, Baer said he is a self-employed consultant, real estate investor and father of 10. He said he has worried for years about unethical withdrawals of food and water. He described his role in the humane care campaign as "cheerleader."
If Baer is the cheerleader, that might make Laird Maxwell the quarterback.
Maxwell, of Boise, Idaho, heads America at Its Best, the Montana group through which money for the humane care and spending measures flowed.
"I kinda got a knack for petitions," said the white-bearded, bolo tie-wearing activist.
Maxwell and his wife, Lori Klein, also are involved with campaigns this year to limit land-use planning and government taking of private property in Idaho and Arizona.
Maxwell said he didn't come up with the humane care amendment. He said he could not recall why Nebraska was selected. He said he thought someone on his board pitched the humane care idea to him.
He said he signed off on it because it fits his philosophy.
"I don't think property rights are limited to dirt," Maxwell said. "Your right to work, your right to breathe, your body -- those are yours, too."
When in doubt about what a person wants, he said, caregivers should err on the side of life.
Asked how he learned of Thomas Mann, Maxwell said: "Thomas Mann? Who's he?"
Reminded of Mann's position with the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee, Maxwell said he recalled speaking with Mann and his wife once on a conference call.
As for who ultimately funded the effort, Maxwell said: "People from all over the nation. I don't really know. It's a national movement. I send donors to ALG. They send donations and donors to me."
During the keynote address at ALG's inaugural conference in Chicago this month, Eric O'Keefe said he, New York real estate investor Howard Rich and like-minded friends fueled the national term limits movement of the 1990s.
Their work continues today in ALG and similar groups. O'Keefe, chairman of ALG's executive committee, said they support citizens in taking back their government.
"It's a question of: Are we subjects or sovereign citizens?"
A recent report by the Oregonian newspaper estimated that ALG-affiliated groups have pumped more than $7.3 million into ballot initiatives this year. Those measures include spending caps, eminent domain, term limits for judges and school vouchers in at least 13 states.
ALG gave money to Maxwell's group, which in turn was used for the two Nebraska petitions. ALG board member Baer was clearly involved. But other ALG leaders publicly embrace only the spending measure.
The decision to spend money on humane care, they said, was up to Maxwell.
"We haven't done anything on (humane care)," O'Keefe said.
But his wife has.
Leslie Graves, who is married to O'Keefe, started Renewal Voter Outreach, the company that was paid $1.4 million to gather signatures on the Nebraska petitions.
Graves is no stranger to petition drives. The Spring Green, Wis., woman ran signature-collecting efforts to put third-party candidates on the ballot in the 1970s and 1980s, including Libertarian Ed Clark for president in Nebraska.
But she said the humane care petition was the first she's really cared about. Once she decided to do humane care, she was asked to circulate the spending petition as well.
Graves works for Rachel's Vineyard, a Wisconsin-based organization that holds retreats for women recovering from abortions.
Graves said she's been active in pro-life causes for more than seven years and feels strongly that the humane care measure is needed. But she said it wasn't her idea and she wasn't involved in funding it. She said she heard about the amendment from Safranek, whom she said she had known for years.
Safranek, however, said he doesn't know Graves and didn't inform her about the measure.
The conflicting stories highlight the fuzzy origins of the humane care effort.
Goldberg, the campaign finance expert at the Brennan center, said the public needs to know who is pushing an issue onto the ballot.
"If you know who's behind it," she said, "you have a better sense of knowing what it's about."
World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2006, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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