J.E. Dunn gives the medical-research sales-tax campaign a boost


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A campaign committee pushing for the passage of a half-cent sales tax in Jackson County for translational medical research is building quite a war chest. But the money isn't coming from a broad base.

On September 9, The Pitch reported that the campaign coffers of the Committee for Research Treatments and Cures had swelled to $620,000. Most of the contributors had ties to Hallmark Cards and the greeting-card company's namesake family.

The only contribution since then has been a September 10 $10,000 check from Polsinelli, a high-powered law firm on the Country Club Plaza that is doing pro bono legal work for the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute on the sales-tax proposal.

One contribution unlike the others was a $100,000 payment on September 4 from J.E. Dunn Construction, an organization that on its face doesn't seem to have a direct tie to Hallmark, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City (chaired by Hall family scion Don Hall Jr.) or the three institutions that stand to reap the biggest rewards from the tax (Children's Mercy, the University of Missouri - Kansas City and St. Luke's Health System). But J.E. Dunn does have close ties to those institutions.

The 2011 tax forms of not-for-profit St. Luke's Health System (the most recent year available) show that J.E. Dunn was the hospital's highest-paid independent contractor, to the tune of $51.5 million for construction work. The previous two years, J.E. Dunn was paid $73.1 million and $61 million, respectively. Those rec-ords show that St. Luke's frequently called on J.E. Dunn for various construction projects, among them a seven-story heart hospital on its Wornall campus, which opened in 2011.

Children's Mercy also views J.E. Dunn as an important partner; it paid the company $11.2 million for work in 2011. Peggy Dunn, wife of J.E. Dunn CEO Terry Dunn, was the hospital's secretary of the board that year. The year before, J.E. Dunn did $16 million worth of work for Children's Mercy.
UMKC also funnels work to J.E. Dunn, most recently hiring the contractor to build its $32 million Bloch Building addition that serves the Henry W. Bloch School of Management.

It's possible that J.E. Dunn is contributing to the research tax because it sees the promise that new medical breakthroughs could have for the region. But it may also see an opportunity for itself.

The Hall Family Foundation has pledged $75 million to build a research lab at Children's Mercy Hospital, but only if Jackson County voters spring for the sales tax, which would direct $40 million a year for the next 20 years to medical research. The election is November 5.

While the Committee for Research Treatments and Cures has collected big checks, a meaningful opposition has yet to form.

Jim Fitzpatrick, a retired Kansas City Star editor, has launched the Committee to Stop Bad Cures. But his group hasn't filed any 48-hour reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission, which indicates that he hasn't received any checks in excess of $5,000. And Fitzpatrick was headed for the western slope of Colorado on vacation last week.

Brad Bradshaw, a Springfield, Missouri, lawyer, is running another opposition committee, Citizens for Responsible Research. He has raised a little more than $100,000, all from his personal bank account, and he is looking to run television ads in opposition to the Jackson County tax.

Despite fielding a team of political operatives - Steve Glorioso, Pat O'Neill and Jeff Roe - and with the election more than a month away, the pro-tax campaign blitz has not yet started in earnest. When they do take to the airwaves, they will have plenty of money and deep-pocketed partners to help them spread their message.


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