Three Nebraska State Board of Education candidates who enjoyed the support of a political action committee (PAC) tied to the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Watch International (FWI) won their races Tuesday.
Protect Nebraska Children PAC (PNC-PAC), whose treasurer sits on a related nonprofit that works directly with FWI, spent over $38,000 on campaigns for Nebraska’s statewide school board in 2022, according to the group’s Nov. 1 filling to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC). PNC-PAC supported victorious Republican candidates Sherry Jones in District 6, Elizabeth Tegtmeier in District 7 and incumbent Kirk Penner in District 5. All voiced opposition to comprehensive sex education and inclusive education, part of a nationwide right-wing movement that has increasingly politicized school boards after the 2020 general election.
None of the candidates responded to Hatewatch’s request for comment.
Nebraska Public Media (NPM) reported that PNC representatives have been vocal at Nebraska board meetings. They accused teachers and board members of attempting to “groom” and “indoctrinate” students with the aim of making them gay, NPM said.
PNC-PAC did not respond to a request for comment.
Marni Hodgen, a Republican, was the only candidate PNC-PAC supported who lost. Democrat Deborah Neary beat Hodgen with 51% of the vote in District 8.
Hodgen did not respond to a request for comment.
PNC-PAC used the campaign funds to both support the aforementioned Republican candidates and oppose their competition. For example, PNC-PAC spent $7,944 on radio ads to oppose Neary, filings show.
The Nebraska State Board of Education has eight members, including the president. The board will choose Nebraska’s next education commissioner, a position that oversees implementation of state agendas and policies.
PNC-PAC filed its statement of organization with NADC on Nov. 23, 2021. The document lists Jenna Derr as the treasurer, the only official on PNC-PAC fillings.
PNC-PAC is a separate legal entity from Protect Nebraska Children (PNC). Derr is a member of both.
PNC formed in 2021 as a coalition of parents to “to protect the health and innocence of children and the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education, health care and upbringing of their children,” according to a report by the Omaha World-Herald.
The newspaper reported that five of PNC’s founders met at a Nebraskans for Founders’ Values (NFFV) workshop. NFFV is a right-wing Christian organization that advocates for a return to “culture based on Christian principles.”
NFFV caused controversy in 2021 when they included a quote from Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on an anti-comprehensive sex education banner at a local event. After the controversy, NFFV said they took down the banner until they could “provide the correct context” and they do not “idolize Hitler.”
After PNC formed, they partnered with FWI to handle their money, according to an FWI website and screenshots of Derr’s social media comments.
FWI hosted a PNC petition to “stop comprehensive sexual education,” including “unscientific gender identity theories.” The petition is part of a larger, U.S.-wide FWI petition initiative.
Hatewatch reviewed screenshots of PNC’s private Facebook group, which boasts over 22,000 members, wherein Derr claims FWI handles PNC’s money and pointed members to the PNC petition that FWI hosted. Derr said in a post that “all money donated through the website it [sic] tax deductible and managed by” FWI.
Sue Greenwald, another PNC coalition founder, has appeared publicly with FWI president Sharon Slater.
Hatewatch was unable to locate PNC’s registration documents. FWI’s latest public form 990, a filing required of most nonprofit organizations, is from 2020, a year before PNC was formed.
Cash on hand
PNC-PAC’s NADC filings show that Derr was the first large donor to the PAC. On Jan. 1, she donated $3,000. As of the latest filing, that number increased to $3,750.
Some of the candidates PNC-PAC supported also donated. Filings show Jones contributed $4,000 in 2022, which made her the largest single donor. Penner has two $1,000 donations listed under his name. His business, Penner Patient Care, Inc., also donated $1,000.
Tegtmeier’s campaign also contributed $1,000. Filings show no donations from Hodgen.
NADC does not require PACs to name individuals who contributed $250 or less. Such contributions accounted for $10,290 of donations to PNC-PAC in 2022.
According to PNC-PAC’s fillings to NADC, the group still has over $20,000 in cash on hand.
Photo illustration by SPLC