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The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

Clout of political clubs dwindles

10/10/2013 3:38 PM

10/10/2013 10:17 PM

There was much online hand-wringing this week after the venerable Citizens Association, a Kansas City political club, decided to oppose the Jackson County research sales tax in November.

It was, some suggested, a serious blow to the campaign for the half-cent levy.

Well, maybe. The group’s political action committee had about $80 in the bank last month, hardly enough to provoke a stampede to the polls.

Citizens might learn something from Freedom Inc., the venerable African-American, inner-city political group.

On Oct. 3, Freedom also decided to oppose the research levy. Two days later, it got a $25,000 check from Springfield attorney Brad Bradshaw, the guy buying billboards against the health research idea.

Related? Freedom officials say no. They see the tax as regressive, unfair to their poor constituents, who won’t see its benefits. Bradshaw’s money is simply a way to communicate that concern to urban voters, they say.

Interestingly, Freedom seemed less worried about regressive sales taxes when it supported the sports complex improvement tax. The endorsement came about the time the Save Our Stadiums committee sent the group $75,000.

Freedom officials also defend the Bradshaw donation by insisting both sides offered them cash. It doesn’t seem like that argument would instill great confidence in the group’s endorsement process.

In fact, both clubs’ struggles have led to voter skepticism that may have actually weakened their influence. Citizens endorsed Mike Burke in the last Kansas City mayoral race. He lost. Freedom endorsed Jim Rowland in the primary. He lost.

It works the other way too. Taxpayers Unlimited Inc., the political arm of the Kansas City firefighters union, supports the research tax. In 2010, the group endorsed Mark Funkhouser for mayor. He lost.

Indeed, the evidence suggests Kansas City’s venerable political clubs are less relevant to election outcomes than they have ever been. And we know why. In our diverse, tweeting, blogging world, Grandpa’s committee may speak for Grandpa, but it’s just one voice among many, many others.

The Jackson County research tax still seems pretty unpopular. If it fails, look for Citizens and Freedom to claim some credit, especially if turnout is low.

But Jackson Countians are smart enough to make up their own minds on this issue, and others. The battle for club endorsements is an interesting game for the area’s political junkies, but not, increasingly, for anyone else.

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