Overland Park & Leawood

To lure GOP convention, local effort hands fundraising reins to Leawood power couple

Updated: 2014-02-04T19:17:11Z

By TERI SCHAEFER

Special to The Star

Peggy Dunn and her husband, Terry, walk the trails around Leawood every weekend, traveling about eight miles.

Now the couple has a lively discussion topic for their weekly stroll: How to raise $50 million or more to help lure the Republican National Convention to Kansas City in 2016.

The Kansas City committee working on that effort recently named Peggy, Leawood’s mayor, and Terry, head of a large construction company, as co-chairs of its finance committee. The two have been asked to approach as many people and organizations as they can, asking them to help pay for most of the cost of the GOP gathering.

Excited? “I’ll be excited when the RNC (Republican National Committee) chooses Kansas City for its convention. Until then, I’m going to be working hard to raise money,” Peggy said.

Terry Dunn called it a challenge, and “a lot of work.”

That work is critical. In December, the Republican National Committee sent a long list of requirements to cities interested in landing the 2016 convention, including reserved hotels, transportation services and security upgrades.

For example, the host city would have to provide free police protection, if the federal government decides the convention poses no national threat and merits no manpower from the Secret Service or the National Security Agency, the NSA. That cost for Kansas City would be enormous.

Virtually all of the GOP’s requirements have to be supplied for free. The Dunns’ job is to get commitments from the private sector to cover those costs, now estimated to be between $50 million and $60 million.

Roughly two dozen cities are rumored to be interested in the 2016 Republican convention, which brings prestige and millions of dollars in economic benefits to a community. Those cities, as well as Kansas City, are preparing their responses to the GOP request for proposals to host the convention. They’re due near the end of February.

As part of the city’s response to the GOP, Peggy and Terry are in the process of recruiting the members of their finance committee. They’ll announce the appointments in February.

The bidding cities don’t need to have all of the cash firmly in hand by the end of the month. But serious contenders will have to show the GOP’s recently picked site selection committee that they have enough financial resources to deliver what they promise.

That’s where the Dunns come in.

“Kansas City has a lot of civic pride,” Peggy said. “There is merit in this. Kansas City won’t have anything to be embarrassed about by trying.”

Convention fundraising, though, can be a thankless task. Others cities have found that turning pledged support into actual checks is often difficult.

In 2012, Tampa met its $55 million fundraising goal in late August — just days before the convention began.

What strategic decision was most successful in raising so much money?

“What happened is Tampa Bay worked hard. But the finance committee decided the convention would benefit the whole state,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. “So we raised funds statewide. “

And Rohrlack adds that the city is still reaping benefits, two years after the convention.

“Residents are excited about Tampa Bay again. They’re saying ‘This was great for our city. Now what’s the next big thing?’ ” said Rohrlack.

In Kansas City, civic leaders say they’ve picked the best fundraisers in the area.

While the prospect of raising substantial cash for the convention appears to be overwhelming, the selection of the Dunns to lead the effort is not a surprise.

Peggy is an established figure in Republican circles. A well-known and respected mayor, she is often mentioned by party leaders as a potential candidate for higher office.

“She is an outstanding individual and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if national Republican leaders were impressed,” said Jim Heeter, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in an email.

“Mayor Dunn has demonstrated both skill and leadership as the CEO of a major suburban city,” Heeter said in his email. “She has the fiscal acumen, the insight and strong relationships throughout the regional community to serve in that position.”

Leawood Councilwoman Carrie Rezac said she believes Peggy Dunn is up to the task.

“She has the understanding and fortitude to carry that over nationally,” Rezac said.

Peggy Dunn said she was recruited to lead the convention fundraising effort.

“Why was I recruited? I don’t know,” she said. “Since I’ve been in local politics since 1993, I’ve never had to prepare a resume. I’ve always been recruited.”

And as for her husband? “Terry is broad-based in his philanthropy,” Dunn said.

Broad-based financial help will be important as the fundraising effort proceeds. Unlike other cities, Kansas City doesn’t have a large contingent of wealthy individuals and companies to step forward to meet the GOP’s requests.

Instead, the city will need to recruit dozens of smaller donors to build a finance package.

“Already several individuals and companies are calling, wanting to provide those volunteer services to Kansas City for the convention and wanting to be on our committee,” Peggy said.

Although many services would be free to the RNC, Kansas City stands to profit from this convention, Peggy said, estimating an economic return between $250 million to $400 million for the host city.

The Dunns play their cards close to their chests. They won’t discuss supporters, money-raising tactics, obstacles, opportunities or a strategy.

“We’ve got Republicans and Democrats wanting to help and people from both sides of the state line,” Peggy said.

The RNC’s wheels also are turning. Last week it announced the members of its site selection committee, which will choose the city for the convention. There are eight committee members.

Kansas City does not have an inside track.

None of the members of the committee is a Kansan or a Missourian. The closest states any of the members come from are Iowa and Arkansas.

“These individuals have an important task ahead of them: choosing the best place for our party to formally introduce our 2016 nominee to the country; to conduct important party business; and to share our party’s message of freedom and opportunity,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

Peggy didn’t originally consider politics her life’s work. Her major in college was social work. “I really like people. I love to work with them,” she said. She decided to run for Leawood’s city council after several people recruited her.

Now Peggy will run two major political operations: one on the national stage, and the other a little closer to home.

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