The campaigns for and against a Jackson County sales tax to aid medical research have raised more than $2.4 million in the lead-up to next week’s election.
That means it’s not the most expensive local ballot issue campaign in history, but it’s right up there.
“This will be right in the ballpark of the bigger campaigns,” said Steve Glorioso, spokesman for sales tax supporters, as well as a political consultant who has worked on many a ballot issue in the last four decades.
Both sides say they opened their wallets wider than they anticipated to try to sway voters. And yet they aren’t done racking up bills for TV commercials, mailers and other campaign costs.
One big reason for the escalating cost of the election: Proponents hadn’t anticipated a well-funded opposition to emerge.
The most expensive tax election hereabouts was the five-county Bi-State II tax vote in the fall of 2004. Proponents spent $3.2 million in their failed attempt to pass a regional tax for the arts and for renovation of the Truman Sports Complex. Opponents, just $30,000.
But this fall’s campaign already exceeds the $1.9 million spent in 2006, when Jackson County voters approved a sales tax for stadium fixes that locked the Royals and Chiefs into long-term leases, according to reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Likewise, the August 2004 vote that raised Kansas City hotel and rental car fees to pay for the Sprint Center cost the combatants $2.2 million. Glorioso says that one was more expensive than the current campaign after you factor in inflation and cost per potential voter. Jackson County has more of them than Kansas City.
Still, a whole lot of money has been coughed up by donors since the proposal to raise taxes for an institute of translational medicine was announced Aug. 8 by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.
And given the stakes — a half-cent, county-wide sales tax that would raise $800 million over 20 years — the spending by supporters especially shouldn’t be so surprising.
The overwhelming leader in raising and spending campaign cash is the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures, which had collected at least $1.97 million as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Those dollars are paying for a targeted get-out-the-vote effort, consultants and a barrage of polished TV commercials. Some ads stress the economic benefits of the tax in terms of jobs.
Others showcase people who say the tax would fund research to find new treatments and cures.
One commercial features 17-year-old Emily Mallette, who suffers from advanced juvenile glaucoma. Emily says a vote for Question 1 would mean “more possibilities and more hope” for people like her.
More than two-thirds of dollars paying for the cures campaign has come from the Civic Council, members of its boards of directors and board members’ companies or foundations. That’s at least $1.3 million, most of it from donations of $100,000 or more.
The CEOs of the largest companies in the area make up the bulk of the Civic Council’s membership. The group has long promoted the economic benefits of boosting the life sciences industry in the region.
The other major contributors on the pro-tax side are the three institutions that would receive 90 percent of the tax proceeds.
Children’s Mercy Hospital, which would get $20 million a year, donated $200,000 to the campaign. St. Luke’s Health System and the St. Luke’s Foundation are in for $50,000, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Foundation gave $96,000. St. Luke’s and UMKC would get $8 million a year in tax funds.
No one counted on such an expensive campaign. But the Committee for Research, Treatment and Cures nearly doubled the $1 million-plus that Glorioso had said the pro-tax campaign would spend when backers met with The Star’s editorial board on Aug. 7.
What he didn’t figure on, he said, were opponents with deep pockets coming to bat.
First up was Brad Bradshaw, a trial lawyer from Springfield who also has an office in Kansas City. He set off the spending spree by running TV commercials against the measure even before the county legislature put Question 1 on the ballot.
He’s given more than $200,000 of his own money to the political action committee he created, Citizens for Responsible Research.
“I have spent more than I planned,” Bradshaw said.
His original reason for weighing in was his concern that a single-county tax might undermine his hope of getting a statewide research tax passed at some point.
But in its ads, Citizens for Responsible Research attacks the ballot measure for other reasons. One claim is that there is no guaranteed return on the investment, since most translational medical research fails to produce cures or profitable new drugs.
Other ads suggest that Jackson County tax money might end up subsidizing the Kansas operations of Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s. Both hospitals deny the claim.
Also running ads is Citizens for Fairness, a little-known group that reported receiving the bulk of its $203,000 campaign fund from yet another equally unknown group, the Government Policies Foundation.
Both were formed in recent weeks.
A spokesman for Citizens for Fairness, labor and employment lawyer E.E. Keenan, declined to discuss the makeup of that group.
“We don’t maintain a formal membership list,” he said.
Neither did he offer much information about the Government Policies Foundation and the source of its funds.
“You’ll have to ask them,” he said.
The Star tried to do just that, but the resident agent for the Government Policies Foundation, Leawood real estate attorney and former Kansas state legislator Douglas J. Patterson, did not return calls. The foundation’s co-incorporator, another attorney in his law firm named Michelle Burns, declined to discuss the foundation or the source of its funds.
While Keenan expressed no curiosity in that group, he was curious to know the source of the $700,000 that the Civic Council as an organization has contributed to the campaign.
“We have no idea where that’s coming from,” he said.
Civic Council Executive Director Jewel Scott said there’s no mystery. The money, she said, came strictly from members’ dues.
Bradshaw said he doesn’t know who is behind Citizens for Fairness, either, but was “pleasantly surprised” when the group joined the fight.
Citizens for Fairness raises some of the same objections to the proposed tax, but also questions Jackson County’s ability to manage the money in the wake of this year’s botched handling of the property tax reassessment process.
“We all want new treatments and cures, but county government is not up to the task,” one mail piece states.
The Missouri Right to Life Political Action Committee and Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, founded by Jim Fitzpatrick, a substitute teacher and former Star staffer, also have run ads opposing the tax.
The impact that all this campaign spending will have on the final outcome is anyone’s guess.
For instance, Bi-State II got walloped despite the fact that proponents outspent opponents 100 to 1. And the arena measure passed handily, even though opponents outdid supporters by a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
Bradshaw, the guy who threw the first punch in this fight, has no idea how it will turn out, but is sure about one thing.
“I am spending no more,” he said.