JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A handful of organizations across the state are going on the offensive with a large and well-funded advertising campaign to promote the veto override effort for the legislature’s tax cut bill, House Bill 253.
Groups like the National Federal of Independent Businesses, Associated Industries of Missouri, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the pro-tax reform Club for Growth all form the statewide coalition called Grow Missouri. Their goal: to coordinate a statewide campaign aimed at encouraging reluctant lawmakers to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of HB 253 during a special veto session in September.
“The purpose was mainly to bring all these folks together that were in favor of serious tax reform,” said Club for Growth Executive Director Melanie Abrajano. “We’ve been pushing for this kind of legislation since we were founded, it’s our main purpose. Everybody is doing their own campaign and their own messaging, but we want a place where the campaign can be formalized into a message from all the supporters.”
Abrajano is also the Treasurer for the Club for Growth PAC, which received a large contribution from retired investment broker Rex Sinquefield.
Sinquefield has poured about $2.4 million into Club for Growth and Grow Missouri-style groups. His first donation to Grow Missouri about two weeks ago was for $1.3 million.
Abrajano shied away from crediting the generous donations from Sinquefield as the facilitator of such a large, statewide ad campaign.
“We’ve been fighting for this cause well before Rex ever cut us a check,” Abrajano told The Missouri Times. “He’s a citizen and he supports groups fighting for the causes he believes in. Are we grateful? Of course we are, but to say we wouldn’t be doing this without his help, that’s just not true.”
Aaron Willard, Treasurer for Grow Missouri, said that radio and cable ads would be in full swing by the time the September veto session ended, and that much of the ads would target constituents, not lawmakers, in an effort to give some reluctant Republicans political cover. Willard said many Republican lawmakers were unsure how much support the measure had in their local communities, and that Grow Missouri wants to create as much positive feedback aimed at lawmakers about HB 253 as possible.
In the weeks since the governor’s veto, groups like the Missouri Association of School Administrators have been pressuring their representatives to vote against the override, arguing the massive tax cuts will have a detrimental impact on education. A MASA spokesperson confirmed that superintendents across the state had been encouraged to contact lawmakers and “remind” them that they would see the vote to override as a vote against public education.
Nixon has echoed the sentiment, regularly stating at press events across the state that Missouri lawmakers can “support public education or House Bill 253, but not both.”
Opposition to HB 253 and Grow Missouri cite Sinquefield’s massive donations as a sign that the organization represents the interests of a few wealthy individuals, not the average Missouri citizens.
Amy Blouin, founder and Executive Director of the left-leaning Missouri Budget Project, said she found Sinquefield’s large investments in a pro-HB 253 ad campaign “disturbing.”
Similarly, there is a group of organizations that oppose the override effort that are trying to get their word out. Unlike Grow Missouri, however, the Coalition for Missouri’s Future lacks the large-scale donations.
“The Coalition for Missouri’s Future is a group that is basically aimed at supporting the governor’s veto of this bill,” Blouin said. “And I can tell you that our members represent teachers, schools, senior citizens and Missouri families. I think that’s more telling than having a bunch of business groups and a few million dollars from one man on your side.”
Blouin said that Grow Missouri was using money almost exclusively from one large donor to fund a campaign aimed at changing public policy for all Missourians, and that traditional ad campaigns like that of Grow Missouri “distort” the reality of HB 253.
“Our discussions with constituents and legislators is going to be much more in-depth than a 30-second spot,” Blouin said. “And ultimately we believe legislators, by and large, they know that the best public policy doesn’t come from the wishes of one nearly-billionaire and what he wants. It comes from what your community wants. It comes from healthcare providers and schools and families in your district, and that’s who we represent.”
But Grow Missouri and its supporters have argued that the tax reductions will let the average Missouri family save money on taxes and encourage growth in small businesses, a long-term economic boom for the state.
“Our strength doesn’t come from the checks we’ve gotten,” Willard said. “The real strength of this campaign is that we have so many member organizations both as formal ad large scale groups representing businesses and smaller grassroots organizations. All those members touch a wide variety of people, which is going to help move public opinion and ultimately, that’s where the strength of this campaign comes from.”
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CMReischman