Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Money talks

February 27, 2008

The Lawrence Journal-World said this in a recent editorial:

Interesting, isn't it, what some individuals or companies will do to try to win the votes of state legislators or the general citizenry?

Two cases in the last week are perfect examples.

Officials of Sunflower Electric Power Corp., the company that wants to build two coal-fired electrical plants near Holcomb, said they would give $2.5 million to Kansas State University if permits for the plants were approved by June 1. The offer was revealed to members of the Kansas House just before a vote on legislation to allow construction of the plants.

This vote is important to the entire state, but it's understandable that this offer was made to KSU, not Kansas University. The perception in most of the state is that KU doesn't really care much about anything in Kansas west of Topeka. Therefore, legislators in the western part of the state are more likely to be swayed by an offer that's supportive of KSU rather than KU.

It will be interesting to watch the final vote and any effort to override an expected veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Some consider Sunflower's offer almost as a bribe.

The other example is the offer by the Hall Family Foundation to purchase several buildings in Johnson County, one of which would be used for KU's cancer research program, if Johnson County residents approve a eighth-cent sales tax later this year. The tax income would be used to fund a KU out-patient cancer center in Johnson County, developments on the KU Edwards Campus in Johnson County and the KSU development on the newly created KSU-Olathe Research Park.

The campaign or scheme to get a favorable vote has been in the works for some time with the Hall Family Foundation offer being the latest piece of the strategy. Supporters figure there are large numbers of KU alumni in Johnson County who would be expected to vote for anything that is portrayed as helping KU. KSU officials are quick to point out that an estimated 28,000 KSU alumni also live in Johnson County. Deals have been made to get certain individuals to endorse the plan and, between KU and KSU alumni, organizers think they will have enough votes to seal the tax increase deal.

Time will tell, but regardless, it is interesting to see what individuals and companies will do to try to get what they or their leaders want.

This type of vote getting is likely to happen with greater frequency in the coming months and years with the average voter probably wondering whether his or her single vote is going to mean much in the face of such powerful, well-organized and well-orchestrated campaigns.

The Hall family and Hall Family Foundation has been extremely generous to KU for many years, but this is the first time foundation officials have used the possible acquisition of a building as a tool or bait to get voters to approve a tax hike. KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway is a member of the foundation board.

Politics is a funny, sometimes dirty, raw business.

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