Politics & Government

Kan. anti-tax drive backed by Missouri billionaire

A new campaign to repeal the Kansas income tax is being bankrolled in part by a Missouri billionaire and anti-income-tax crusader.

Rex Sinquefield recently contributed to Kansans for No Income Tax, the state's main tax-repeal group, an associate said Tuesday. The amount was not made public.

Political consultants said that if Sinquefield becomes heavily involved in the Kansas income tax debate it could profoundly change the political environment surrounding the issue.

"There's nobody in Kansas that can match his firepower," said Democratic consultant Jim Bergfalk. "It could be incredibly decisive."

Sinquefield, a retired businessman, has been a central figure in Missouri politics for years. He has given tens of millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes in the state.

But he has never been financially involved in Kansas politics.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, is widely expected to propose modifications to the state's income tax when the Legislature convenes next year. Kansans for No Income Tax, which will pressure lawmakers to support phasing out the tax, went public less than two weeks ago.

Sinquefield was not available for comment Tuesday.

Records show the Kansans for No Income Tax website is registered to St. Louis-based Pelopidas, a campaign and lobbying company owned by consultant Travis Brown.

Brown is also president of Let Voters Decide, the campaign committee now gathering petition signatures to repeal the income tax in Missouri. Sinquefield has poured more than $12 million into Let Voters Decide in the last two years, including a $1.3 million contribution in early October.

Brown would not say exactly how much Sinquefield has contributed to Kansans for No Income Tax, but said "he's obviously supported it."

He added: "We will support any organization that is serious about ending their state income tax."

Let Voters Decide paid for the Missouri initiative that led to this year's votes on repealing the 1 percent earnings tax in Kansas City and St. Louis. Voters in both cities overwhelmingly extended their earnings taxes in April.

Ashley McMillan, the president of Kansans for No Income Tax, would not directly confirm or deny a Sinquefield contribution to the group. "We receive support from a lot of different entities," she said.

Unlike Missouri, Kansas does not have a mechanism that allows voters to put issues directly on the ballot. Instead, the Kansans for No Income Tax campaign will involve public relations and political communications against the income-based levy, including a statewide bus tour that starts Friday.

The group hopes to convince Kansas lawmakers to repeal the income tax when the Legislature convenes next year.

Sinquefield's involvement in the Kansas campaign comes as Missouri voters are being asked to sign petitions that could lead to an income tax repeal vote next year. Let Voters Decide wants to replace the income tax with a higher and broader sales tax in Missouri.

Sinquefield's associates now believe Kansas and Missouri should pursue income tax repeal at the same time so that neither state suffers a competitive disadvantage.

Kansans for No Income Tax isn't a political action committee, and it isn't registered as a lobbying group. Instead, it's a nonprofit social welfare corporation organized under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code.

As such, contributions are unlimited, and donors' names can be kept secret.

"It is a concern," said Joan Wagnon, head of the Kansas Democratic Party. "You want to know who's pushing an initiative, and who stands to gain, and who stands to lose."

But using a private company to raise and spend money on the tax repeal issue isn't limited to Republicans. In fact, several Missouri-based business and labor groups Tuesday announced their own 501(c)(4) —the Coalition for Missouri's Future — designed to oppose Sinquefield and the Let Voters Decide initiative.

Spokesman Richard Martin said the company was not trying to hide its financial backers. He provided a list of members contributing to the coalition.