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But it didn't count on a personal-injury lawyer from Springfield, Missouri, named Brad Bradshaw, who entered the campaign with his own fortune aimed at defeating the tax. And it didn't expect a furtive and well-funded campaign committee, in Citizens for Fairness, to crop up.
Whoever worked on behalf of Citizens for Fairness — and its equally nebulous nonprofit financier, Government Policies Foundation — understood well Missouri's lax election laws. Citizens for Fairness filed paperwork in September with the Jackson County Election Board, the Independence office of which isn't usually visited by local media. Reporters are more apt to stake out the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners, in Union Station.
Citizens for Fairness established itself with the Missouri Ethics Commission on October 23, two days after getting a check for $196,000 from the Government Policies Foundation. The foundation applied to the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, meaning that it wouldn't have to disclose the names of contributors and making it an ideal cloak for anonymous special-interest money. The name Government Policies Foundation suggests a stodgy think tank that has been around forever, but it was established on September 17 of this year. Its incorporation papers list the address as 1025 Winchester Avenue, a dingy building in the Blue Valley Industrial District owned by Ford Warehouses Corp.
Government Policies Foundation organizer Doug Patterson, a Leawood lawyer, has declined to say whose money finances the foundation, citing attorney-client privilege. (Patterson is also the secretary of Ford Warehouses Corp., which explains why Government Policies Foundation used the Winchester address.) Patterson, a Republican, used to serve in the Kansas House; Gray helped him get elected.
Asked if Gray worked against the sales-tax campaign, Patterson again summons attorney-client privilege.
"I'll tell you, as you know, lawyers have privileged type of information that we're prohibited from disclosing," Patterson says. "I can't tell you one way or the other."
Regardless, the Government Policies Foundation played a key part in smothering the sales tax. The group poured $200,000 into Citizens for Fairness — almost all the committee's cash. It also paid $40,000 to Freedom Inc., a longtime black political club in Kansas City that's sometimes considered influential to its voting bloc and has a reputation for requiring payment from political interests that seek its endorsement.
Freedom Inc. came out against the sales-tax measure on October 3, saying that funding translational research wasn't the responsibility of Jackson Countians. Two days later, Bradshaw paid Freedom Inc. $25,000.
Gray has been known to work with Freedom Inc. in the past. Pro-tax campaigners became suspicious that Gray was in league with Freedom Inc. again when the political club's anti-sales-tax mail arrived at Kansas City houses. The well-produced pieces resembled direct-mail items that Gray had sent in previous campaigns.
John Carnes, an Independence lawyer who has worked with Gray (and sometimes against him) in prior political contests, took up ranks with Citizens for Fairness, spreading the word in eastern Jackson County about the faults of the proposed sales-tax increase.
"I think the Freedom people may have had some discussions with Pat, but I don't know," Carnes says. "I don't know if he was for it or against it."
Freedom Inc.'s and Citizens for Fairness' materials would prove influential in sinking the sales tax. Patterson says he understood that polls dropped "like a lead balloon" after Freedom staked its opposition.
Freedom Inc.'s Kiki Curls and Gayle Holliday could not be reached for comment.