Nelson’s Top Donor? Buffett’s Berkshire

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If there was any lingering doubt about why Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted against opening the debate on financial reform, the identity of Nelson’s top donor—Omaha-based financial company Berkshire Hathaway, led by guru Warren Buffett—should provide some clue. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top givers to Nelson’s campaigns are the political action committee and  employees of the highly profitable Berkshire Hathaway, who have given Nelson $75,550 throughout his Senate career. Nelson and his wife, the Omaha World-Herald reports, also own between $1.5 and $6 million in Berkshire stock, financial disclosure forms show. Only five members of Congress have more than $100,000 in Berkshire stock.

Nelson’s “No” vote yesterday was attributed to his ties to Berkshire. Nelson had been a top backer in Congress of a provision in the bill that would’ve exempted the owners of existing derivatives contracts from offering up additional cash or collateral—a requirement that will be imposed on future deals if the finance bill, as it looks now, became law. Lobbying hard for that provision was Buffett, who opposed having to post collateral on Berkshire’s existing derivatives deals, a condition he called unconstitutional. However, that Buffett-backed provision was killed yesterday, and soon afterwards Nelson cast his vote against beginning debate on financial reform.

Nelson told the World-Herald that he wanted the exemption in the bill mainly because it was good policy, and he was joined by Nebraska’s junior senator, Mike Johanns, who also voted “No” on cloture yesterday. Nebraska’s Republican chairman saw it differently, calling Nelson’s vote “Yet another backroom deal being orchestrated by Sen. Ben Nelson.” There’s been no word yet whether that exemption has been put back into the bill. Nelson and his colleagues will return to the Senate floor today at 4:30 pm for another vote on whether to begin full debate on financial reform. 

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