Secret money, a rogue consultant, power brokers — the research-tax campaign had everything, except a good idea. 

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For proponents of the Jackson County half-cent sales-tax increase that would have funded medical research, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.

Boosters of the measure lost by a staggering margin — 84 percent of voters said no. And the steepest rebuke of a significant local election in memory was even more remarkable because the proposal had been engineered to pass easily.

Early polling suggested that a wide majority of voters would approve the idea. And the short time between the idea's first public announcement — August 8 — and the November 5 vote should have short-circuited the formation of organized opposition.

Backing the tax were some of the business community's more visible luminaries, chiefly Hallmark Cards executive Don Hall Jr. It was the kind of high-profile support designed to lock up credibility, and the pro-tax movement had tapped into enough local wealth to draw a $2 million campaign war chest.

Supporters of the tax also had sewn up commitments from KC's leading political operatives: Jeff Roe, Pat O'Neill, Steve Glorioso and Pat Gray. That quartet represented a flying wedge against any opposition, blocking access to the most experienced consultants in town.

Then Gray broke formation.

"Pat Gray has decided to step back from the campaign from this point forward," reads an October 26 e-mail from Roe to pro-tax electioneers. "Please leave him off any and all campaign communications from here out."

Roe's note capped weeks of speculation within the pro-tax campaign that Gray was working covertly for organizations opposing Question 1, the measure to send $40 million a year to St. Luke's, Children's Mercy and the University of Missouri–Kansas City for translational medical research.

His announcement also came three days after a mysterious entity called Citizens for Fairness filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. That committee poured hundreds of thousands of dollars toward killing the sales-tax measure while obscuring its own origins and the identity of its principal financier (listed in ethics-commission documentation as Government Policies Foundation).

The day that Citizens for Fairness filed its financial disclosure with the Missouri Ethics Commission was the same day that Gray was corresponding with E.E. Keenan, a Kansas City lawyer who coordinated the secretive committee.

The Pitch has confirmed the exchange between Gray and Keenan on October 23 that discusses campaign strategy.

The correspondence seems to confirm the suspicions of multiple sources involved with the sales-tax campaign, who told The Pitch that they thought Gray collaborated with Citizens for Fairness in the weeks leading up to Election Day, taking with him key data including polling and messaging gained from his work for the pro-tax campaign. (Many sources do not want to be named because they continue to have political dealings with Gray or fear retribution from him.)

Gray did not respond to several phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment for this story.

Roe, a political muscleman usually aligned with Republican interests, became the point man for sales-tax proponents. He declines to comment specifically about Gray. "We had a bipartisan collection of top-level operatives who did a great job," Roe tells The Pitch. "We had one situation I had to take care of in that campaign."

Roe does not elaborate on that one situation.

Campaign finance records show that Gray's company, Cambridge Consultants, was paid $10,000 on October 21 but received no further payment from then on.

The pro-tax campaign, called Committee for Research, Treatments and Cures, amassed about $2 million to convince voters to pass the tax, much of it coming from the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. The Civic Council, a klatch of business executives, pools its resources behind various missions. It was the primary group trying to pass the sales-tax measure, and it helped suck up that $2 million war chest by calling on a narrow slice of the Kansas City business community.

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