Pro-referendum group spent $72K in unsuccessful effort last spring; Justice Matters doesn’t turn in report
photo by: Mike Yoder
Updated 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2019
The group that unsuccessfully supported last spring’s countywide Proposition 1 referendum has filed an accounting of the money it raised and spent during the campaign, in contrast to the faith-based group that led efforts to defeat the measure.
Shortly before the Dec. 31 deadline, Citizens for a Better Douglas County turned in a required campaign accounting for the more than $72,000 it raised and spent in support of Proposition 1, said Heather Dill, deputy Douglas County Clerk. The report showed an executive with the architecture firm that had been hired to design the jail expansion was the largest contributor to the campaign.
However, Justice Matters, the group that led efforts to defeat the ballot question, has not yet turned in the same required financial report.
Both groups were active in the Proposition 1 spring campaign, making their positions known through yard signs, advertising and robocalls. The Douglas County Commission put the first Proposition 1 ballot question before county voters through a three-week mail-in ballot election that ended May 15 of last year. The defeated ballot question asked voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund a $44 million expansion of the Douglas County Jail, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5.1 million annually for enhanced behavioral health programs.
County voters approved in November a second ballot question, which authorized a quarter-cent sales tax to develop the $11 million behavioral health campus in the 1000 block of Second Street and $4.1 million annually for new mental health and substance abuse services.
Ben MacConnell, lead organizer for Justice Matters, said Sunday evening that he disagrees with the assessment by the Douglas County Clerk’s Office that Justice Matters is required to file the campaign finance report. He said the nonprofit organization will file its lobbying expenses as part of its tax return that is due on May 15.
“I think there is confusion about the different legal reporting requirements between a political action committee and a nonprofit,” MacConnell said.
But Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said he thinks Justice Matters has a misunderstanding of Kansas law. He said lobbying and campaign expenditures are treated differently under Kansas law. Shew said he is fine with looking into the matter further, but said Kansas law is pretty explicit in its reporting requirements.
“We can send it to legal counsel, but the way the law reads is that anyone who spends money for or against something that is on the ballot has to file an expenditure report,” Shew said. “I’ve never had anyone say they are exempt.”
Shew said his office reminded Justice Matters representatives of the need to file the report and would work with them to get that done. Because its report is now 30 days past due, Justice Matters could be considered delinquent. According to Kansas statute 25-905, that can lead to prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $1,000. Shew said he would ask the county attorney on Monday for further review of Justice Matters’ contention that it is exempt from the law.
MacConnell, when pressed on Sunday evening, said that Justice Matters spent a little less than $35,000 on the election. He declined to provide details about who contributed money to the effort.
The vote yes group — Citizens for a Better Douglas County — filed the required report with the Douglas County Clerk’s Office soon before the Dec. 31 deadline for the accounting, Dill said. Also filing a report was Lawrence Sunset Alliance, a taxpayer watchdog group that opposed Proposition 1.
The report that Citizens for a Better Douglas County filed shows the group raised $72,850. The group spent $8,332 on print advertising, $26,437 on mailers, $2,728 on yard signs, $3,835 on polling, $6,025 on website design/social media, $5,357 on robocalls and $10,086 on postage, its report shows. The group also spent $9,900 on a campaign consultant.
The biggest contribution to the pro-referendum campaign was $10,000 from Michael Treanor, of TreanorHL. The county hired TreanorHL to design Proposition 1’s jail expansion and its behavioral health campus. The firm remains the architect for the behavioral health campus that voters approved with the passage of the second ballot question in November. TreanorHL also is designing the revised jail expansion that the Douglas County Commission is considering.
The county’s behavioral health partners of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA, Heartland RADAC and Lawrence Memorial Hospital also contributed to the pro-referendum campaign. The agencies will provide services on the behavioral health campus and would have been partners at the campus envisioned in the first Proposition 1 ballot question.
Heartland RADAC and DCCCA donated $6,000; Bert Nash donated $9,000; and LMH contributed $8,000. A number of trade unions and contractors also made sizable donations, including Capital Trucking, of Topeka, $2,000; Hamm Inc./Scott Anderson of Perry, $1,000; J.E. Dunn Construction, of Kansas City, Mo., $500; the Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, $5,000; and Teamsters of Kansas, $500.
Among other large donors were Hallmark Cards/Erin Brower, $1,000, and Dave Hill, of Mid America Bank, $5,000. Douglas County Commissioners Michelle Derusseau and Nancy Thellman donated $250 each.
The Lawrence Sunset Alliance spent $706.33 to print informational brochures that were shared at presentations and online advertising. Sunset Alliance member Patrick Wilbur donated $750 of the $845 the group raised.
— Journal-World editor Chad Lawhorn contributed to this report.