Mees sets higher bar for campaign funds

Thursday, April 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In her successful bid to become a Columbia School Board member, Jan Mees raised more money than any school board candidate in the past five years, and probably much longer.

“I can’t remember anyone raising dollars to that degree before,” said Jim Ritter, who was assistant superintendent of Columbia Public Schools for 16 years and superintendent for five years before retiring in 2003.

Mees was sworn into the Columbia School Board on Monday night after a campaign that raised $14,377, according to the Boone County Clerk’s office. She raised roughly $12,000 more than her rivals, incumbent Karla DeSpain, who was elected to a third term, and second-time candidate Michael Tan.

Mees began fundraising in December. The largest of her 311 donations was $550 from her parents, Ralph and Norma Conte, of Columbia.

Ralph Conte said they gave her $500 when she started her campaign even though Mees did not want to accept. Then, at her kickoff fundraiser in February, the Contes gave her an additional $50.

“When I went to the fundraiser she told me, ‘Please, don’t give me any more money,’ but we wanted to help,” Ralph Conte said.

The next largest donation came from Mees’ campaign manager, Tim Harlan, and his wife, Linda, who donated $300. The rest of the donations ranged from $20 to $150.

In her report to the clerk’s office, Mees listed all contributors regardless of how much money they gave; state law requires that contributors of $100 or more be listed by name, address and occupation.

Among her contributors, 86 work for the district, which employed Mees for 21 years. She retired almost a year ago from Hickman High School, where she was director of the media center. Twenty-one of her contributors were listed as retired.

By comparison, DeSpain raised $1,875, and Tan raised $1,143. Mees said she didn’t know how they were doing until the candidates had to file a campaign finance report with the clerk’s office. A final report is due in about three weeks.

“All I knew was, because I was a first-time candidate, it was really important for me to get my name out in the public,” Mees said, “and the other two had run before so they might have had signs or even money left in previous runs.”

She said she sent three mailings asking for donations to friends, family, former co-workers and people that campaign manager Harlan suggested. She also held a fundraiser so she could explain to potential voters why she was running.

“I was hesitant to ask people for money,” Mees said. “But I guess you have to do that to run a campaign.”

Among her expenditures, Mees spent $2,979 on signs, $4,543 on mailings and brochures, $1,800 on radio advertisements, and $570 for hosting her campaign fundraiser at The Pasta Factory in Columbia.

When Mees filed her report on March 26, she had spent $9,945 on her campaign. A portion of the remaining $4,432 covered her watch party on election night at Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant.

Mees said Tuesday that she has yet to meet with her campaign treasurer, Merc Mazzocco, and Harlan to talk about any campaign leftovers after all the bills have been paid. Mees said she does not know yet what they will do with the money but said it will be used professionally.

“I’m not using the money to take a trip to Aruba,” she said.

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