Photo by File photo
At a recent meeting, the North Platte City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Quality Growth Fund Economic Development Program for another 10 years. Dan Mauk took the podium.Mauk, the president and chief operating officer of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Development Corporation, thanked the outgoing members of the council.
After expressing his gratitude, he joked, “You almost always voted the way we wanted you to.”
Perhaps North Platte voters were following the council’s lead when they resoundingly voted Nov. 2 to renew the Quality Growth Fund. It was a big win for Chamber/Devco and their “Vote Yes on Jobs Campaign.”
Two measures regarding the fund appeared on the ballot. The first was approved with 67 percent of the vote, the second by 62 percent.
“It was a wider margin than we were expecting,” Mauk said.
The margin of victory may have been large, but it did not come cheap.
Vote Yes on Jobs waged a pricy campaign to encourage the renewal of the Quality Growth Fund. Mauk estimated the total amount spent to be approximately $84,000. His guess falls in line with pre-election estimates provided by Meridian Central Public Affairs, the firm brought in to manage the campaign.
“I looked at it as my job to be point man for this,” Mauk said. Kyle Gifford of the local accounting firm Gifford and Cox served as Vote Yes on Jobs’ treasurer, and Darrel Smith of First Nebraska Financial was the chief fundraiser.
Much of the money came in the form of two large loans from the Chamber’s Incentive Fund, normally used to entice new business to come to North Platte.
Chamber/Devco gave Vote Yes on Jobs a jumpstart with a $41,950 loan Sept. 29.
The second loan ($26,879.10) was disbursed Oct. 27, according to documents from the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
They also contributed a $2,000 donation.
“The expectation with a campaign loan is that the other contributions will raise enough money so the loan can be paid back,” Mauk said. In this case, he admitted that Vote Yes on Jobs’ fundraising efforts fell short of what was hoped for.
The balance between what was loaned and what was raised will be written off as a donation, Mauk said.
The campaign is still accepting donations to help defray costs, he added, but isn’t soliciting them.
“Only your really good friends will write you a check after the election is over,” he told the Bulletin.
Mauk said his organization was fully committed to the effort. “The Quality Growth Fund is mission critical to us,” he told the Bulletin. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is the cost of losing this election?”
Chamber /Devco was barred by law from using money given to them by city and county government to advertise Vote Yes on Jobs. It also was unacceptable to use money from the Quality Growth Fund itself in the campaign. The organization has received $100,000 from North Platte’s promotions budget in recent years.
Chamber/Devco’s incentive fund, on the other hand, comes from contributions from members, Mauk said. Money received from the city is used primarily to pay salaries and cover travel expenses, he added.
While Chamber/Devco pushed the most chips forward, they were far from the only contributor.
An additional $25,120.87 in donations is listed on NADC’s website. Law requires that any individual, business, committee, etc. that donates more than $250 must be reported. No individuals donated more than $250, but several groups and businesses did.
According to documents from NADC, Great Plains Regional Medical Center was the largest contributor after Chamber/Devco. GPRMC donated $10,000.
First National Bank contributed $5,000. Adams State Bank added $2,500, as did the Chamber Hostesses.
NebraskaLand Days Inc. contributed $2,000, Erickson Investments $1,000, and Wilk Properties $500. A group called All About North Platte chipped in $620.87.
The donations from First Naitonal, Adams State, the Chamber hostesses, and Erickson Investments were received after the election, according to NADC documents.
As quickly as the money came in, it went right back out.
An early September survey of 300 likely voters in North Platte cost $17,500. Mauk said the survey indicated that around the same number of people had favorable and unfavorable views of the Quality Growth Fund, but the vast majority of likely voters “didn’t know what the heck it was.”
Other expenses early in the campaign included $440.57 for a logo design study, $134.55 for rally signs and $4,500 on web design.
Once the calendar turned over to October, however, advertising kicked in and the spending ramped up. According to NADC documents, Vote Yes on Jobs racked up a $68924.79 advertising bill between Oct. 4 and Oct. 24.
The man Mauk credited with crafting the successful campaign is Sam Fischer of Meridian Central Public Affairs.
“Keep it simple. Make it good,” reads Meridian’s mission statement. “We’re not about glitz or glamour; we’re about getting the job done well.”
Fischer has a long association with successful Republican campaigns in Nebraska and elsewhere. His bio on Meridian’s website said he headed then-President George W. Bush’s get out the vote ground operation in Nevada in 2004. Meridian’s site claims that the agency worked with such Nebraska notables as Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith, Sen. Mike Johanns, and Gov. Dave Heineman, amongst many other causes and campaigns.
A Sept. 12 email from Fischer to Mauk projected $61,200 for direct mail, web, radio, television, and print production and advertising. “This would cover an aggressive media buy starting October 5,” Fischer wrote. “It would include advertising on KNOP during two daily newscasts, a heavy buy on cable to include Fox News, and a heavy radio buy on KODY and KXNP radio.”
“It would also include five pieces of mail to voters and several days of running a quarter-page ad in the Telegraph. This strategy has us starting Oct. 5, and not coming down in intensity,” Fischer concluded.
Along with big name Republican politicians, Fischer also had recent experience with similar issues in Nebraska. He told the Bulletin that he managed the successful campaign in Norfolk to institute a Quality Growth-type fund in Norfolk’s primary election. The measure had failed previously in that community.
Norfolk also happens to be Mauk’s old stomping grounds, and both men said that connection is what drew them to work together.
“The people in Norfolk pointed me in North Platte’s direction,” Fischer said.
He also told the Bulletin that while he believed the QGF would be renewed in North Platte, he anticipated a much closer election.
“I think people in North Platte are very concerned about taxes. I thought it could be as close as a few hundred votes,” he said.
He echoed Mauk’s statement that one of the chief problems facing the campaign was that many voters were unaware of how the fund worked, or even that it existed.
“Our main problem was that voters were unaware of this issue. They’d never even heard of the Quality Growth Fund. We had to get the message out there,” he said. “Clearly, it resonated with voters.”
Mauk has stated publicly several times that the Quality Growth Fund is crucial to promoting the growth of North Platte. Most recently, Mauk requested and received grants on behalf of a scrap metal recycling facility. In addition, $125,000 was secured for a small and as yet unnamed data center that Mauk believes will bring infrastructure that will put North Platte on the map for attracting larger projects in the future.
Chamber/Devco is matching the $125,000 from the city, though the project is not expected to create local jobs.