May 31, 1997 in Nation/World

The Dollar Game - New Stadium Decision Dollar Signs Point To A Stadium Victory With The Tab $5 Million And Counting, TV Poll Shows Allen Leading 42 To 39

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer
 
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Ah, to be on billionaire Paul Allen’s campaign payroll.

Allen has spent millions so far to convince voters statewide to go along with his plan to demolish the Kingdome and build a $425 million football-soccer stadium and exhibition hall in Seattle.

Voters will decide the issue in a statewide election June 17.

The $3.2 million Allen has already shoveled into the campaign doesn’t count the $1.7 million he spent to get the proposal through the Legislature or the $4 million he’ll spend to cover the cost of conducting the election.

Allen has shattered state records for spending on an initiative.

The previous record to promote an initiative was $2.1 million spent by tribes in 1996 to push an ill-fated initiative to legalize slot machine gambling.

There are no state spending limits on ballot initiatives.

Allen’s company, Football Northwest, is the only donor to the football campaign so far, except for an $84 check from a Seattle construction company.

“Never has so much been spent by so few to convince so many,” quipped Seattle campaign consultant Cathy Allen.

A poll this week by KXLY-TV shows Paul Allen’s campaign may be paying off.

Before Allen’s TV ads began running, the stadium proposal was trailing in statewide polls.

But the KXLY poll released Thursday night showed 41.9 percent of voters saying they would vote yes on the proposal, 39.3 percent saying they were opposed and 18.8 percent undecided.

Some say the proposal can’t lose, with Allen’s millions hosing voters down with mail, phone calls, radio and TV ads.

“When you spend that kind of money developing and delivering a message, it’s really hard not to win,” said Ron Dotzauer of Northwest Strategies, a Seattle public relations firm.

“All the ‘no’ campaign has to do is create doubt, but they don’t have the money to do that.”

Citizens for More Important Things, the stadium opposition campaign, has $4,891 in the bank with a little more than two weeks to go before the June 17 election.

Sherry Bockwinkel, who’s working for the opposition, said she’s still optimistic.

“No amount of money will persuade citizens that their tax dollars should subsidize pro sports. And they’ve gone too far with their advertising. People are sick of it they see so much of it.”

State records show voters can’t hide from the football campaign’s ads.

The campaign has bought TV time on shows that run the gamut from morning, noon, and evening news broadcasts in every major market to “Seinfeld,” “Martha Stewart,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Jeopardy” and “Cheers.”

No matter viewers’ tastes, they are almost certain to run into a stadium ad.

Cable channels have also been targeted, with ads running on ESPN, A&E;, CNN and even the Clark County cable channel.

On radio, it’s the same, with ads packed between country crooners, sports talk show jocks, drive-time news programs, and oldies favorites.

Mailings and phone calls will reach voters as well.

With a seemingly unlimited amount of cash to spend, the campaign seems to have money for just about anything, state records show. The spending ranges from a $55.78 load of sod and $190 worth of balloons to $27.88 for gourmet coffee and $20 to pay a campaign-related parking ticket.

The big money has gone to media buys and consultants, many of them from out of state.

The campaign has a dozen firms at its disposal, including donated staff and services from two of Allen’s companies. The Seahawks have donated nearly $100,000 worth of help, from paid appearances by players to help designing a campaign site on the World Wide Web.

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has donated staff to the campaign, and a bevy of Seattle consultants are raking in fees along with out-of-town campaign firms on both coasts.

The campaign is rich enough to spend a half-million dollars at a clip on TV, and $172,000 for a California consulting firm to target tens of thousands of voters at 62 cents a call.

“This is a race that I think will go down in history for a lot of reasons,” said Allen, the consultant. “Not only because of the spending record but also because of the campaign, which is unlike anything I’ve ever see in this state.

“Their field operation will do everything but pick you up in a limousine and take you to your mail box to mail in your ballot.”

About two-thirds of the votes will be cast by mail, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

But the election is not a shoo-in, despite all the money Paul Allen has to spend.

“What I think is happening is voters are thinking, I don’t want to give what little I’ve got for this stadium,” Cathy Allen said. “People believe if they build it, they will pay. These ads tell them they won’t, but people don’t believe it.”

Bob Gogerty, top strategist for the Our Team Works campaign, said he expects voters to change their minds from no to undecided to yes.

The TV poll shows he’s right, Gogerty said. “I don’t know anything for sure yet. But I think we are about where we need to be right now.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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