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Organizers to raise $2 million in Proposition B

September 21, 2000
By: Paul Monies
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The campaign designed to cut outside funding for political candidates is getting a bundle for its own campaign -- and most of it is coming from outside of Missouri.

Campaign organizers say they expect more than $2 million will be raised by both sides for November's ballot measure on public financing of campaigns.

Proposition B would set up a statewide system of voluntary, public campaign finance funded by an increase in the corporate franchise tax.

The measure was certified Aug. 7 after Missouri Voters for Fair Elections collected more than 100,000 signatures. The group spent more than $200,000 in the petition effort. Organizers say they hope to raise at least five times that before the general election.

"It's ironic that we're going to have a fund-raiser to end all fund-raisers," said Ellen Bogard, spokeswoman for Missouri Voters for Fair Elections.

Bogard said campaign finance reform moved to the forefront this year in part by independent voters who backed Sen. John McCain's Republican presidential nomination and his campaign finance reforms.

Opposition groups, which include the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri, have formed a coalition called No Tax Dollars for Politicians to defeat the ballot proposal.

"We have a campaign goal of $1 million and we've been out across the state meeting with members one-on-one," said Kelly Gillespie, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Gillespie criticized Missouri Voters for Fair Elections' reliance on out- of-state money to fund the initiative.

"Seventy-five percent of their money comes from out of state," Gillespie said. "I think they made a tactical mistake putting the burden on businesses. Other states have funded it through a tax on lobbyists or court costs."

Campaign finance reports show Missouri Voters for Fair Elections had raised about $415,000 by June -- more than one half from sources outside Missouri.

Public Campaign, a campaign finance reform group in Washington, D.C., has donated $140,000 since June 1999.

"We were invited in by the group in Missouri," said Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign. "We have gone out to raise money on campaign finance reform and there is more opportunity for reform at the state level."

The Proteus Fund, a Massachusetts public charity active in state campaign finance reform, has given $90,000 under its Piper Fund project.

Katrin Verclas, program officer for the Proteus Fund, said the charity gives out grants on a competetive basis. The fund makes yearly grants totaling $1 million to state groups active in reform.

The fledgling No Tax Dollars for Politicians, organized in Februrary, had collected $3,200 through June. Missouri Business Association gave $3,000.

Gillespie said the Chamber has turned to veteran fund-raiser Mark Rhoads to reach its goal. Rhoads was instrumental in helping to defeat a 1996 ballot initiative on the minimum wage, Gillespie said.

"We have a long-standing opposition to this in principle," Gillespie said. "Shouldn't state tax dollars be going to education, roads and bridges and not politicians?"

Rhoads said Thursday he was happy with the fund-raising.

"The response so far has been wonderful," Rhoads said. "We are going to have the adequate resources within the next 30 days to get the message out to voters."

Bogard, however, said the current system rewards good fund-raisers, not necessarily the best campaigns or candidates.

"We're confident that when it's laid out to the people, they really want campaign finance reform," she said.

If it passes, Proposition B is expected to raise about $13 million each year for public campaign financing. Similar proposals have passed in Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts and Vermont. Oregon voters will decide this year on a public campaign finance measure.