Big money flowing into the streetcar campaign

The rails of the pro-streetcar campaign are being greased with mutli-thousand-dollar checks from real-estate firms, advertising companies, law firms, engineering companies and trade groups.

Connect KC, the campaign committee charged with running the pro-streetcar extension campaign, reeled in $178,565 in contributions in the last reporting period, records with the Missouri Ethics Commission show. The committee previously had raised $82,767, bringing up its total contributions to $261,332.

The dollar amount isn’t unusual; it often takes a heavily financed campaign to convince voters on the merits of a tax increase. (While the August 5 streetcar election doesn’t raise taxes if approved, it sets the table for a November vote, which would raise sales taxes and levy special assessments if passed.)

Nor is the cast of contributors. The streetcar has been billed by some supporters like Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson as more of a catalyst for economic development than a means for moving people around. In Kansas City, economic development and real-estate development are usually two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps answering that call, many of Kansas City’s leading real-estate firms have donated to the cause:

• Colliers International – $2,500
• Copaken Brooks – $500
• Cassidy Turley – $2,500
• VanTrust Real Estate – $10,000

Three of Kansas City’s prominent law firms also came to Connect KC’s side. Shook Hardy & Bacon donated $5,000. Other firms with contracts with City Hall also supported the cause. Husch Blackwell, the law firm that employs streetcar transportation-development-district attorney Doug Stone, cut a $5,000 check.

Bryan Cave, which has traditionally been an influence at City Hall and has the lucrative legal contract to advise the Tax Increment Financing Commission of Kansas City (a body that doles out tax benefits to certain companies) donated $2,500. Wesley Fields and Stephen Sparks, the two Bryan Cave attorneys who do the bulk of the TIF Commission’s legal work, were among several firm partners who chipped in personal contributions worth $357.14 each.

Freightquote, a freight shipping broker that moved from Lenexa to a new office building just across the state line to Interstate 435 and State Line Road, moved $5,000 Connect KC’s way. Freightquote’s move was fueled by one of the most substantial tax incentive packages ever awarded to any company that crossed state lines in the ongoing economic-development border war.

Other contributions included:

• Meers Advertising – $1,000
• Boulevard Brewing Co. – $5,000
• Trozzolo Communications Group – $2,500
• Burns & McDonnell – $25,000 (the engineering firm has donated a total of $55,000 during the election cycle)
• Populous Group – $5,000
• JE Dunn – $2,500
• Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences – $10,000
• Heavy Constructors Association – $25,000

Connect KC’s fundraising outpaced that of the main opposition committee, SmartKC. 

SmartKC still managed to raise a six-figure haul in the latest reporting period. The committee, whose treasurer is Brookside attorney Sherry DeJanes, raised $107,216.

SmartKC’s main financiers are James Nutter, owner of the eponymous mortgage company, and Missourians for Responsible Government. On the aggregate, both have donated $125,700 to SmartKC. Other contributors include $100 checks from Mark Esping, Wayne Flaherty and Dennis O’Neill, all three retirees who have been involved in various campaigns against local government’s big ideas.

Flaherty is an Overland Park resident who played prominent public roles in defeating the Bi-State II tax for the Truman Sports Complex and the arts, as well as a 2006 proposal in Johnson County to build soccer fields in Overland Park that was connected to a forthcoming plan to build a new stadium for the then-Kansas City Wizards in south Johnson County. Both measures lost resoundingly.

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