Organizations help finance Proposition 1 for children's mental health service

Saturday, November 3, 2012 | 8:04 p.m. CDT; updated 6:11 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

*The top five contributors to the Putting Kids First campaign would benefit from this tax. An earlier version of this story did not include Burrell Behavioral Health in that list.

A summary of the proposal for a quarter-cent sales tax to fund children's mental health services can be found in the Missourian's Voters Guide.

Campaign contributions and expenditures

The coalition backing a permanent quarter-cent sales tax for child mental health services in Boone County reporting spending $139,877 on its campaign as of eight days before the election Tuesday. Here's a breakdown of the top contributors. The entire campaign report can be found at the Missouri Ethics Commission website.

Top five contributions:

Great Circle: $26,620

Pathways Community Health: $25,000

Children’s Foundation of Mid-America: $25,000

Burrell Behavioral Health: $25,000

Lutheran Family and Children’s Services: $25,000

Top five expenditures:

Chadderdon Group, direct mail: $71,689

Campaign workers: $16,651

Grassroots Solutions, canvassing and field operations: $15,620

Public Progress, political consulting: $15,000

Stone’s Phones, public opinion polling: $11,284

Source: Missouri Ethics Commission

COLUMBIA — Christine Corcoran was shocked when she heard the estimated cost for the campaign to pass a quarter-cent sales tax for children's mental health.

"It made me sick to my stomach," she said. "I’m from the world of nonprofit where we don’t buy buttons and T-shirts and signs because that stuff is expensive, and we had to do some of that."

Total expenditures for the Proposition 1 campaign, as reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission eight days before the Tuesday election, were $139,877.

Corcoran, director of Lutheran Family and Children's Services and the leader of the Putting Kids First coalition backing the proposed sales tax, said she soon discovered that local agencies were eager to contribute.

The top five contributing organizations are potentially in line for funding under the measure: Lutheran Family and Children's Services, Children's Foundation of Mid-America, Pathways Community Health, Burrell Behavioral Health* and Great Circle.

Four of the social service agencies have branches in one of the seven Missouri counties that have passed the tax, so they knew what the fund could do for their services in Boone County, Corcoran said.

The largest contribution to the Putting Kids First campaign was from Great Circle, formerly Boys and Girls Town, which gave a total of $26,620.

Julia Adami, the Great Circle director of community-based services, has been involved with the campaign and said Great Circle sees the tax as an opportunity for Boone County to not only expand services, but also implement new programs.

"When you have an additional fund that allows agencies to really think about evidence-based programs throughout the country that could be modeled, you can be as progressive as you want to be," Adami said. "If there’s no funding, that’s not an option."

Direct mail and canvassing

The campaign's largest expense was to the Chadderdon Group, a Democratic direct mail firm in Alexandria, Va. Putting Kids First spent $71,688 for five mailings that described the need for a children's mental health tax in Boone County. Each mailing went to between 10,000 and 15,000 people.

They could not afford to send them to every resident of Boone County, though, so the Chadderdon Group helped refine the target audience, Corcoran said.

The second-largest expense was $16,651 for campaign workers: canvassers who went door to door and a full-time supervisor.

“We have targeted doors to knock on," Corcoran said. "Theoretically, those are undecided voters, and it just means going to those doors and introducing ourselves and giving them one of our red brochures.”

There were about five paid canvassers and 30 volunteer canvassers at any given time in the campaign, she said.

Another cost associated with canvassing was $15,620 to Grassroots Solutions for consulting. Grassroots Solutions helped with canvassing organization for several of the Missouri counties that ended up passing a tax for children's mental health.

Putting Kids First initially designated $5,000 for TV and radio advertising, but was concerned that $5,000 was too low to have significant impact and shifted the money toward canvassing, Corcoran said.

Community presentations

Another major part of the campaign was presentations by members of the committee, most of whom are representatives of local social services.

There were about 450 presentations between July 16 and Nov. 1, and about 200 presentations during the initiative petition process from April 1 to July 15, Corcoran said.

The audiences of these presentations ranged from neighborhood associations, school personnel meetings and civic groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Optimist Club organizations, to Sunday schools, adult sororities and book clubs.

"Where there are a few or more people gathered, we would go," Corcoran said.

The committee hired Todd Patterson with Public Progress for political consulting and assistance in the development of a uniform message. Patterson also worked with the other Missouri counties that have passed this tax.

"The people on our committee – we’re all social workers and counselors," Corcoran said. "We like to tell you everything under the sun, and to the public, you have to figure out a few key messages."

Several of the individual donors to the Putting Kids First campaign were people who heard the members' presentations.

"That's just so heartwarming," Corcoran said. "It’s wonderful to go out and talk to groups and have them believe in us and believe in our cause."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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