CasinoClash 13 -- A $3.4 million campaign, or why you should become a strategist

Todd Dorman
Published: May 20 2013 | 1:25 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 3:34 pm in

So the final campaign spending numbers are in on the March 5 Linn County gambling referendum. Thanks to our quirky campaign finance system, we don't get a complete picture of who was spending how much on what until more than two months after the vote. Helpful.

Turns out it was a $3.4 million battle to win the hearts and minds of we the voters. And that battle was fought by outside casino interests and local investors interested in becoming casino interests. As casino opponent David Osterberg described it, it was indeed their rich guys versus our rich guys.

First, the out-of-towners. Riverside Resort and Casino pumped another $757,000 into the the Just Say No Casino campaign in late February, on top of the $600,000 it had already contributed in January. After the vote, Riverside got $106,000 refunded.

Isle of Capri stayed on its original $150,000 ante. The Sac and Fox Tribe, operators of Meskwaki Casino in Tama, chipped in $104,000 on Feb. 27.

So, subtracting the Riverside refund, casino interests sank $1.5 million into Just Say No, with hopes of fighting off more competition.

Local investors under the title Cedar Rapids Development Group, sank a total of $1.92 million into Vote Yes Linn County. 

Just Say No may have ended up with just 39 percent of the vote, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of strategy.

During the final days of the campaign, Just Say No cut checks to Link Strategies, a Des Moines-based political consulting firm, adding up to roughly $90,000, Landmark Strategies, specializing in telephone voter contact, for $31,000 and The Strategy Group, which handles direct mail, for $300,000 and change. A Polling firm, David Binder Research in San Francisco, made $51,000. And Internet advertising firm, Precision Network, took in $107,000 in early March.

The disclosure report does not say which strategists came up with the idea of promising Cedar Rapids a water park in exchange for a no vote. Too bad.

Vote Yes Linn County spent $182,000 in the final days on TV ads through Alfano Communications, a Virginia-based political media company that counts Gov. Terry Branstad among its previous clients.

Big money and big time strategery. I doubt we'll see a local ballot issue quite like this one again anytime soon.

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