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Archive for October, 2013

After reading the editorial and Op-Ed pages of today’s Kansas City Star, I am more convinced than ever that we opponents of Jackson County Question 1 are poised for a big victory on Tuesday.

Three letters to the editor bashed the proposal; editorial board member Yael Abouhalkah threw another uppercut in his weekly Op-Ed column; and even the leading editorial, deftly couched in the Halloween theme (“Be very, very scared”), called Question 1 a “spooky scenario.”

I can’t recall ever having seen such an imbalance in the number of letters to the editor on a tax issue. I think The Star has run two or three letters in favor of the half-cent, medical-research, sales-tax proposal, but I’ll bet two dozen opposing letters run.

What’s even more surprising about the imbalance is that when one campaign committee, such as Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures, has an overwhelming amount of money, its consultants usually can ghost write letters and find people to sign them and send them in.

That does not appear to be the case here. All I can conclude from what I don’t see is that very few people are willing to attach their names to a letter urging passage of the tax.

Here’s a sample of what today’s writers said.

Charles Wilson of Lee’s Summit said:

“This is not a public works project worthy of taxpayer funding. This is a private, for-profit venture by groups to fund their research at taxpayer expense…Taxpayers, watch your pockets.”

Chris Haberman-Wilson of Overland Park (can’t vote, of course) urged people to read an article titled “How science goes wrong” in the Oct. 19  edition of “The Economist.”

And Mary Lindsay or Kansas City said she was “disgusted” by a mailer that lauded the benefits of “translational medicine” but bore no disclaimer — as required by law — regarding who had paid for the piece.

For his part, Yael said a significant amount of translational research (aimed at shortening the time between advances and use by consumers) already is taking place in the Kansas City area, particularly at the KU Medical Center’s “Frontiers” program. Two years ago, the medical center received a $20 million National Institutes of Health grant for clinical and translational research.

All these developments — the editorializing and the angry voices of area residents  — are looming like a giant hammerhead over Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures.

The committee’s major backers and funders — individuals and firms connected with the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City — are dealing themselves a serious blow. Ordinarily, we residents tend to hold our civic leaders up for admiration for their contributions to the city and county, but those leaders have now dug a deep hole for themselves.

The last time the Civic Council — a secretive organization (no public membership list, no website) consisting of the CEOs of the areas biggest companies and the managing partners of the largest law firms — got so deeply involved in a political issue was 1991. That year, the Civic Council hand picked its mayoral candidate, Brice Harris, a Metropolitan Community Colleges administrator.

Harris and the Civic Council were in over their heads, and Harris didn’t even make it out of the primary election. In the general election, then-Councilman Emanuel Cleaver easily defeated Councilman Bob Lewellen, a unique and blunt-speaking guy who died a couple of years ago.

My suggestion to Civic Council leaders is that they get back to their real business — guiding their businesses and law firms — and don’t resurface on the political landscape for at least another 22 years.

Then, we (our the next generation of political activists) can whack them on the head again.

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Note: The proponents will be holding their “watch party” at Union Station. The place to be Tuesday night, however, will be the opponents’ “victory party” at The Drop, 409 E. 31st St. (just west of Gillham). Appetizers will be served, with guests purchasing their own beverages.

All readers are invited!

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Ever since hearing last Friday that the Business Journal made a ground-breaking decision to withdraw its earlier endorsement of the proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research,” I have been wanting to get my hands on a copy of the full editorial.

But I’ve been REEEAL busy lately, and it’s not particularly easy to come by the Business Journal, if you don’t subscribe online or to the printed edition.

They’ve gone to a full pay wall on the Web, so you can see only about the first 100 words of any given article before being asked to subscribe in order to read further.

Also, I don’t think the Business Journal has box sales any longer, because I couldn’t find a box anywhere between the Plaza and Waldo.

But today I got a copy ($3.95!) at Barnes & Noble. The full editorial is interesting and well written. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it. Here goes…

P1030108

Sometimes you want something so badly, you suspend your normal thought processes.

That essentially is why we editorialized in favor of the Jackson County Translational Research sales tax in mid-August. Although we had questions at the time about the exact setup of the proposal, they were eclipsed by enthusiasm for the overall goal of building on the area’s existing life sciences efforts, especially through three impressive local institutions.

But a closer examination of the issue brings us to new ground as an editorial board. Although we are as supportive as ever of the tax proposal’s goal, we no longer support the half-cent Jackson County sales tax as the means for bringing it about.

Although supporters of the tax point to the Johnson County Education Research Tax as a good example of a county stepping up to support a less traditional public goal, taking the comparison further highlights flaws in the Jackson County proposal.

Johnson County’s one-eighth-cent levy is smaller, not only reducing the burden on taxpayers, but posing less competition for other county budgeting priorities. This is an important consideration for Jackson County if it is to continue pursuing a commuter-rail system and addressing basic infrastructure and protection needs.

The Johnson County tax is overseen by a board appointed by public bodies and populated by elected officials. This provides a level of accountability and partnership that is lacking with the Jackson County proposal, where the main recipients of the proceeds would control a majority of board seats and the county government has one representative.

It is clear that the Jackson County measure was meant to minimize county involvement as much as possible. An outline presented to the Kansas City Business Journal editorial board included no county representative on the board — the same board that would hire a scientific director and appoint both community and scientific advisory boards.

Promises that Jackson County will receive a 20-percent cut of revenue resulting from the proposed Institute for Translational Medicine are fuzzy, at best. How much revenue will the institute stand to receive after taking into account the interests of scientists and institutions instrumental in the basic scientific work that the translation institute seeks to commercialize? How will partners Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, St. Luke’s Health System and the University of Missouri-Kansas City be compensated for their collaboration? What about interests of any outside investors?

The answer is that no one can say. Backers say negotiations are underway and would continue beyond Election Day.

Finally, previous reporting by the Business Journal has pointed out that the area’s big need — if it is to optimize the economic benefit of the life sciences — is not another translational research lab, but investors. Only private investors can put up the hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars needed to bring a new drug to market. These investors can dictate where startups locate their operations and the jobs that go with them.

Backers of the proposed Jackson County tax say that they have no other choice after failing to win passage of a state incentive program and admit that a big reason for moving quickly is to get the measure considered during an offseason, low-turnout election. Although they deserve credit for being upfront about what’s in the best interest of their goal, that’s different from the best interests of Jackson County residents.

Even voters in favor of the establishment of a Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine owe it to themselves to give more than  a cursory review to the 20-year investment proposal. After engaging in this process as an editorial board, we believe the present tax proposal suffers from a lack of detail, insufficient public discussion and too little accountability to taxpayers.

Now, that is an outstanding editorial, isn’t it?

I love the emphasis on the lack of public accountability; the proponents’ rush to get the measure on the ballot; and the logic of leaving extremely risky and costly research to private investors.

In addition, urging voters to “give more than a cursory review to the 20-year investment proposal” is right on the money.

Shamefully, that is exactly what the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City — the wealthy, elite group of business leaders behind this unholy proposal — DO NOT want voters to do.

No, no! Don’t examine this too closely because if you do, you just might see the gaping holes.

The proponents just want voters to watch their heart-tugging TV ads and go out and vote on emotions only.

Well, Civic Council; the voters are onto you. They’re pissed, and they’re going to blow you away on Tuesday.

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You can see this post and much more about Jackson County Question 1 on the stopabadcure.org website.

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On a day when the Kansas City Business Journal retracted its earlier endorsement of the proposed half-cent sales tax for medical research, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City pitched another $100,0000 onto the huge pile of money being spent to try to pass the measure.

The Civic Council — whose members are primarily the CEOs of the area’s largest businesses and the managing partners of the most prestigious law firms — has now invested $700,000 in the campaign.

And still, not once, to the best of my knowledge, has a member of the Civic Council shown up to speak in favor of it. It’s always people representing the Civic Council. Even Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who championed the idea of putting the proposal on the ballot, has abandoned the effort, at least publicly.

Another contribution that was reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission today was $20,000 from the St. Luke’s Foundation. That brings the total St. Luke’s investment to a whopping $70,000 — $40,000 from St. Luke’s Health System and $30,000 from the foundation.

St. Luke’s Health System, of course, is one of three institutions that would share $36 million a year in new sales tax proceeds, if voters were to approve Jackson County Question 1 on Nov. 5. The other chief beneficiaries would be Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics and UMKC.

Other new entries into the contribution sweepstakes for the proponents are:

Tension Envelopes and the Health Alliance of MidAmerica, $10,000 each, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and the Kansas City Chiefs, $7,500 each.

The view from this web perch, however, is that the nearly $2 million that the proponents probably will end up spending is headed down the tubes.

The latest setback for the Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures campaign committee was the Business Journal’s capitulation. The weekly endorsed the proposal in mid-August, about two weeks before the county legislature even voted to put the measure on the ballot.

Last week, when Business Journal Editor Brian Kaberline was interviewing me about the campaign, I turned the conversation to his paper’s endorsement, saying: “What the heck were you guys thinking about, endorsing the proposal before the legislature had even put it on the ballot?”

He paused for a second and said something like, “I wish we would have waited on that a bit.”

In Friday’s edition, the paper said that its editorial board had had concerns about the proposal initially but that “enthusiasm for the overall goal of building on the area’s existing life sciences efforts” eclipsed those concerns.

“But a closer examination of the issue brings us to new ground as an editorial board,” the editorial went on to say.

Well, thank God. And let’s give the editorial board credit for admitting it was wrong.

…Here is a list of the cures committee’s major contributors as of today, Friday, Oct. 25.

  • The Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, $600,00;
  • Children’s Mercy Hospital, $100,000;
  • Donald Hall Jr., $100,000;
  • Hallmark Global Services, $100,000;
  • J.E. Dunn Construction, $100,000;
  • John G. Sherman, chairman and c.e.o of Inergy L.P., $100,000;
  • Robert Kipp, former Crown Center Development president, $50,000;
  • Burns and McDonnell, engineering company, $50,000;
  • St. Luke’s Health System, $40,000;
  • KCP&L, $25,000;
  • Mariner Holdings, $25,000.
  • Tom McDonnell, retired DST c.e.o., $25,000;
  • Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., former Hallmark Cards c.e.o., $20,000;
  • Randall O’Donnell, Children’s Mercy CEO, $15,000
  • William Gautreaux, a top Inergy LP officer (see John Sherman), $10,000;
  • Wagstaff & Cartmell law firm, $10,000;
  • St. Luke’s Foundation, $30,000;
  • Kansas City Southern Railway, $10,000
  • Husch Blackwell law firm, $10,000;
  • Dr. L. Patrick James, of the KC Area Life Sciences Institute, $10,000;
  • The Polsinelli law firm, $10,000;
  • Lockton Companies, $10,000;
  • Stinson Morrison Hecker law firm, $7,500;
  • Tension Envelopes, $10,000;
  • Health Alliance of Mid-America, $10,000
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, $7,500
  • Kansas City Chiefs, $7,500

That’s a total of $1.71 million.  The next deadline for a full disclosure report with the Missouri Ethics Commission is 5 p.m. Monday.

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You can see this story and much more about the proposed half-cent sales tax at stopabadcure.org.

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Funny how the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City works.

As you know, the organization of business and legal bigwigs dropped the proposed “translational research tax” on the County Legislature just weeks before the deadline for putting a measure on the Nov 5 ballot.

Said they had been working for months on details of the proposed $1 billion tax program and couldn’t present it to the Legislature until it was ready.

Well, you know what? They were telling the truth.

But they weren’t “working” on it in any conventional process. No, they were working on it through the campaign contribution process.

Last night I checked the last three years’ worth  of County Executive Mike Sanders‘ campaign disclosure reports.

You won’t believe what I found, and we’ll bring that to you right after this commercial br…

Oh, wait, this isn’t TV, I can tell you right now!

During the last three years, individuals, companies and consultants who are involved in the translational sales-tax campaign have contributed nearly $65,000 to Sanders’ campaign committee.

The committee currently has about $260,000 on hand, and it is no secret that Sanders aspires to statewide office.

Now, you can’t get to one of the big offices in the State Capitol without a lot of financial help, and the folks who want Jackson County residents to approve this tax increase have paid handsome homage to Sanders.

In turn, Sanders gladly accommodated the civic titans when they came to him sometime this year (who knows when?) and asked him to support their plan for a new 20-year sales tax to pay for this extravagant and risky research program.

Also a gleam in the eyes of civic leaders was a proposed new Hospital Hill building that would house a Translational Medicine Institute of Jackson County.

…Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Makes me picture room after room of translators working with people of various nationalities, trying desperately to get to the bottom of those people’s medical complaints.

Anyway, Sanders obliged the bigwigs and pressed the County Legislature to put the sales-tax proposal on the November ballot.

The cowardly legislature then did its part, voting 7-2 on Aug. 26 — the day before the deadline — to put Jackson County Question 1 on the ballot.

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Now, reports are circulating that infighting has been occurring within the proponents’ campaign committee, the Committee for Research, Treatments and Cures.

That wouldn’t surprise me at all. Five or six different consulting groups are drawing down fantastic fees to try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and — except for my Irish buddy Pat O’Neill — some bloated egos are bouncing around at campaign HQ.

colsanders

The Colonel

In short, Col. Sanders has cooked up a particularly greasy batch of fried chicken, and almost all the key people on the proponents’ side — including the civic leaders who have tossed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign kitty — are trying to figure out how to get out of the frying pan.

Well, the hot oil is of the Civic Council’s making. Its members, along with Col. Sanders, ambushed the County Legislature, and now they’re trying to take Jackson County taxpayers for a ride. But thanks to a stout organized opposition that has emerged in recent weeks, the public has caught on, and many residents are infuriated.

What Civic Council members had hoped would be an intense but smooth, nine- or 10-week campaign has become a big street fight. The civic set didn’t bargain on that, and they don’t like it. Sure, they’ve got their gladiators, the horde of consultants, but the gladiators are just hired hands; they’re getting paid regardless of the outcome.

As I’ve said before, though, we — the opponents — have passion and extremely strong arguments on our side, and we are relishing the street fight. Not only that, we think we know who’s going to win.

Now, here’s that list of individuals and companies that have given Sanders money during the last three years and are now involved in the Question 1 campaign in some way. (I could be off a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars because I just finished the review an hour or so ago — before I started writing this — and I’m dead tired.)

Burns & McDonnell engineering company — $20,000
Polsinelli law firm — $12,500
KCP&L — $11,500
Husch Blackwell law firm — $6,000
JE Dunn Construction — $4,500
Steve Dunn (Dunn Construction) — $750
Terrence Dunn (Dunn Construction) — $750
Tom McDonnell, retired from DST — $2,500
Pat O’Neill, consultant — $2,250
Pete Levi, Polsinelli — $1,350
Robert Kipp, retired from Hallmark — $1,000
Steve Glorioso, consultant — $600
Jewel Scott, Civic Council exec. director — $500
Lockton Companies — $500

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With the proponents of Jackson County Question 1 having lost what little momentum they had early on, I’ve been watching closely to see if the eye-popping contributions to the Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures campaign committee would fall off.

You know, at some point, even the very rich people and well-to-do companies have to wonder if they’re throwing good money after bad.

But, no, it appears that the big bucks are continuing to flow fairly steadily.

The largest, recent contribution to the cures committee came from Children’s Mercy Hospital, which tossed an additional $100,000 into the kitty last Friday, after a September contribution of $100,000.

Children’s Mercy, of course, is poised to be one of three major beneficiaries, should Jackson County voters approve a new half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research” on Nov. 5. (The other chief beneficiaries would be St. Luke’s Health System and UMKC.)

randall

O’Donnell with CMH patient

Children’s CEO Randall O’Donnell has contributed $15,000 personally…And he can afford it. His salary is about $1 million a year, and in 2009 he received a $6 million bonus. (“Honey, we’ve hit the jackpot!)

Another recent, significant contribution came from the Burns & McDonnell engineering company,, which added $25,000 to an earlier gift of $50,000.

The cures committee is now well over $1.5 million in contributions.

The leading, single contributor remains the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the organization of top area business leaders that is spearheading the push for a new half-cent, countywide sales tax for “translational medical research.”

Interestingly, even though these hefty individuals and wealthy corporations (uh, I mean, wealthy individuals and hefty corporations) have put in hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Civic Council leaders themselves never appear at neighborhood meetings to explain why they want the taxpayers to fund their extravagant pet project.

Instead, they send out their minions, often lawyers and others who are expecting to get business deals or advisory board appointments, if the measure passes.

The civic leaders don’t like a street fight, which this campaign has become. They’d rather sit back in their homes — several of which are in Mission Hills and Leawood — and throw more money onto the pyre.

And, yes, that money will be going up in flames; this monster is headed for a hard fall.

As of today, here’s the latest list of five- and six-figure contributors to the cures committee:

  • Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, $600,00;
  • Children’s Mercy Hospital, $200,000;
  • Donald Hall Jr., $100,000;
  • Hallmark Global Services, $100,000;
  • J.E. Dunn Construction, $100,000;
  • John G. Sherman, chairman and c.e.o of Inergy L.P., $100,000;
  • Burns and McDonnell, engineering company, $75,000
  • Robert Kipp, former Crown Center Development president, $50,000;
  • St. Luke’s Health System, $40,000;
  • KCP&L, $25,000;
  • Mariner Holdings, $25,000.
  • Tom McDonnell, retired DST c.e.o., $25,000;
  • Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., former Hallmark Cards c.e.o., $20,000;
  • Randall O’Donnell, Children’s Mercy CEO, $15,000
  • William Gautreaux, a top Inergy LP officer, $10,000;
  • Wagstaff & Cartmell law firm, $10,000;
  • St. Luke’s Foundation, $10,000;
  • Kansas City Southern Railway, $10,000
  • Husch Blackwell law firm, $10,000;
  • Dr. L. Patrick James, of the KC Area Life Sciences Institute, $10,000;
  • The Polsinelli law firm, $10,000;
  • Lockton Companies, $10,000

Long ago, a wise editor told me, “Never make the reader do the math.”

Those contributions total $1,555,000.

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See this post and much more at stopabadcure.org

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Almost every day, someone asks me: “Who’s behind this sales-tax proposal and what do they want?”

Many people seem to think that the Civic Council is involved in some sort of conspiracy designed to further enrich its individual members.

I tell people I do not believe that is the case.

In my opinion, the Civic Council’s motivation revolves around an under-the-radar aspect of this campaign:

For more than a decade, the Civic Council (consisting of the CEO’s of the biggest companies and the managing partners of the biggest law firms) has quietly nurtured the idea of making Kansas City a national center for “translational medical research.”

Furthermore, and more specifically, the Civic Council wants to make sure that the organization calling the shots is an institution of its own creation — the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

The Civic Council dreamed up the idea of the life sciences institute about 15 years ago, and the institute was formally established in the early 2000s. (You can read more about the institute’s history on its website, http://www.kclifesciences.org.)

The institute’s original business plan, finalized in 2000, called for KCALSI to “build a critical mass in life sciences research in Kansas City.” In its plan, the institute set a goal of coordinating the expenditure of $500 million a year on medical research in the Kansas City area.

The institute now has 10 “stakeholder” institutions (not including the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which dropped out somewhere along the way). The stakeholders (including Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s and UMKC, which would receive tens of millions of dollars a year in sales-tax proceeds) spend more than $550 million a year on medical research, according to the KCALSI website.

Despite having reached the $500-million-a-year threshold, however, the fact is that the life sciences institute has not grown and prospered as the Civic Council had envisioned.

It has not approached anything close to the “critical mass” it talked about in 2000.

With just three employees and depending exclusively on its “stakeholder” institutions to keep it relevant, KCALSI has failed to establish itself as a key player in the medical-research industry.

In my opinion, that’s what this tax proposal is all about:

The Civic Council is seeking to prop up and inflate the life sciences institute, making it the viable, prosperous hub around which most of the major medical-research institutions in the Kansas City area would revolve.

To me, it’s simply a matter of the Civic Council being determined to reach a long-sought goal — but at taxpayers’ expense, not the private sector’s.

Once again, it is clear that wealthy, influential individuals and big corporations would rather gamble with public money than their own.

The half-cent-sales-tax proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot in Jackson County is risky and extravagant, and it deserves to be voted down.

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See this post and much more at stopabadcure.org

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The first of three Town Hall meetings sponsored by Question 1 opponents, including Committee to Stop a Bad Cure, will be held at 6 p.m. tonight at the Mid-Continent Library in Independence. The address is 317 W. U.S. 24. Everyone is welcome. Hors d’oeuvres will be provided.

 

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This is the day many of you guys have been waiting for — Yard Sign day.

Marcus Leach and I picked up an order of 500 this afternoon from Gill Studio in Lenexa.

Marcus is with Citizens for Responsible Research, a campaign committee financed almost exclusively by Brad Bradshaw, a lawyer and physician from Springfield. My Committee to Stop a Bad Cure works loosely with his committee. Marcus is working on behalf of Bradshaw’s committee.

Anyway, I like the signs a lot, particularly the words “$800 MILLION TAX,” which is the total amount (at a minimum) that the proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research” would raise.

I planted the first sign in my yard yesterday afternoon.

I have 200 signs; Marcus kept 100 for his committee’s distribution; and 200 are going to the League of Women Voters.

Any of you who would like one or more, contact me by email — jim.fitzpatrick06@gmail.com.

Let’s plant these yard signs and stake out our turf….NO ON JACKSON COUNTY QUESTION 1.

photo

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Meanwhile, the money keeps a rollin’ into the coffers of Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures, the Civic Council-sponsored committee that is going all out financially to try to push Question 1 over the top on Nov. 5

St. Luke’s Health System made two $10,000 contributions within the past week, bringing its total contribution level to $40,000. In addition, St. Luke’s Foundation has given $10,000.

Is it any wonder that St. Luke’s is able to dump $50,000 or more into the election? The private, nonprofit hospital would love to get its hands on $8 million a year of taxpayer funds for 20 years. Not that it needs it, of course, because the hospital probably is generating tens of millions of dollars more than it spends each year, as it is. 

Other large contributions in recent days: Mariner Holdings, an investment advisory firm in Leawood, $25,000, and Kansas City Southern Railway, $10,000.

The CEO’s of Kansas City Southern and Mariner Holdings undoubtedly are members of the Civic Council, an organization of the area’s top business and law-firm leaders. The Civic Council does not reveal its list of members.

As an organization, the Civic Council has donated $600,000 to the cause, and, yet, oddly, the organization never sends one of its members or leaders out into the community to speak in support of Question 1. It always sends minions, usually lawyers from the Polsinelli firm, which is in line to do a significant amount of legal work for the proposed Translational Medicine Institute of Jackson County.   

The cures committee has raised $1.5 million or more.

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