Amendment 3 airship ‘in-kind’ spending questioned, defended

A Missouri-based firm has paid almost $200,000 to bring a 200-foot-long airship and Arthur Laffler into the campaign for passage of Amendment 3 and critics of the proposed permanent ban on a state income tax are questioning the tactic, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The $192,771 tab was paid by the St. Louis-based political consulting and lobbying firm Pelopidas LLC, according to the Yes on 3 group’s financial disclosure report, which listed the spending as an “in-kind contribution.”

…“It’s hard to take seriously concerns about fiscal responsibility when they come from a group that spends $190,000 to send a 200-foot-long bag of gas around the state,” said Bill Howell, treasurer of Citizens for Fiscal Sanity, the group fighting Amendment 3.

Howell called it “a shame that our campaign finance laws don’t require an out-of-state lobbying firm to register as a single-measure committee when it is clearly a very active player in the campaign. Because of that, no one can know who really is behind the campaign for this constitutional amendment.”

But Travis Brown, co-founder of Pelopidas, said the event was part of a larger national effort called Create a Great State intended “to simply urge many states to lower their price on work.”

That “price” is a state income tax, said Brown, who has co-authored books with Laffer on the impacts of state income taxes on state economies.

…State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said the Yes on 3 campaign committee that he chairs will not reimburse the St. Louis group, which he said contacted him to offer help after reading about Amendment 3.

“They have a history of opposing income taxes in Missouri and often cite Tennessee as an example of a state in which not having an income tax has increased jobs and economic development,” Kelsey said Friday.

Kelsey said that the $192,711 Pelopidas spent in Tennessee on a crowd that by Kelsey’s own estimation totaled about 200 people wasn’t fiscally irresponsible because “there were no government funds spent on it whatsoever. It was very fiscally responsible: it was zero,” he said.

“We had a great kickoff event to raise awareness in the state. They’ve had similar events in multiple states, and they had to fly the airship from North Carolina to Missouri, so Nashville was a natural place to stop and hold a kickoff rally. The timing worked out well for both Yes on 3 and the Create a Great State campaign. That’s a campaign they are running in a number of states.”

Kelsey said he assumes someone is paying Pelopidas LLC but he doesn’t know who, and no Tennessee disclosure is required beyond the listing as an in-kind contribution.
…Kelsey said that the Yes on 3 campaign… has no plans to run TV ads but is running limited radio ads across the state.

The radio ad opens with car horns blowing, reminding voters of the horn-honking protests around the State Capitol from 1999 to 2002 when lawmakers considered a state income tax. The narrator says, “Remember how close we were to being burdened with a state income tax just a few years ago? Well now you have the chance to forever ban an income tax by voting Yes on Amendment 3.”

Kelsey follows, saying, “Not having an income tax has already brought many jobs to Tennessee. Voting Yes on Amendment 3 will bring even more jobs.”