May 24, 2017
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Soda-Tax
Spending tops $3.2 million in Santa Fe's sugary-drink tax election.

Fizzy Math

First finance reports show PACs in soda tax election are set to spend more than $500K

March 23, 2017, 6:40 pm

Sugar-sweetened drinks are kind of a big deal. As proof, witness the more than $500,000 poured into the campaigns for and against Santa Fe’s proposed 2-cents-an-ounce tax on such beverages. Money from the tax would be earmarked for pre-kindergarten programs for Santa Fe’s 3- and 4-year-olds.

Political committees had to file campaign finance reports Thursday for all the money and in-kind contributions they’ve collected and spent since the beginning of February. In some ways, it’s the first look behind the curtain to see who’s pulling the levers. And so far, the dollars for “no” are edging out those for “yes.” 

Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, an anti-tax group that bills itself as “a coalition of concerned citizens, businesses and community organizations,” had just one cash donor: the American Beverage Association. The industry group wired $100,000 to Better Way on March 9.

Better Way received massive assistance with consulting, media buys, legal work and direct mail from the ABA—more than $150,000. The local Coca-Cola Bottling franchise kicked in with in-kind contributions, too, shelling out more than $40,000 for signs, flyers, employee time and meals.

The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, which offered $2,000 of “employee time and travel expenses” to Better Way, was the lone non-soda entity to contribute.

All told, Better Way raised $317,000 and farmed out $96,000 to out-of-state political groups.

“I think we would not define our support only in monetary terms,” Better Way spokesman David Huynh tells SFR. “We have a coalition of restaurants and local grocers—over 130 small businesses across Santa Fe.”

However, citing concerns about backlash against coalition members, Huynh would not release the list. The anti-tax group listed no individual donors.

Pre-K for Santa Fe, the pro-tax faction, is also largely funded by big donors, including former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and OLÉ—a political organizing group based in Albuquerque that falls under the umbrella of the Center for Popular Democracy in Washington, DC.

OLÉ gave $100,000 to the pro-tax political committee, and Bloomberg donated nearly that much in research and media buys.

Pre-K listed just nine individual donors who collectively contributed $855.

The United Way of Santa gave the group $2,800 worth of staff time and two local unions, the National Education Association of Santa Fe and IATSE Local 480 contributed as well.

The group’s total take was $234,000.

“We’re happy to have both local and national support so we’re not drowned out. We’re being outspent,” says political strategist Sandra Wechsler. “We’re super glad OLÉ jumped in. We couldn’t be prouder to be working with them to ensure pre-K for all of Santa Fe.”

Neither Wechsler nor Huynh would share much in the way of strategy, other than both reiterating the importance of the election and of education. They’ve also both been paying attention to how similar campaigns were waged in cities like Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia.

No forums have been announced that would let voters hear both sides of the debate at the same time.

With six weeks to go until the May 2 election, it seems likely mailboxes and radio commercial breaks will be full of sugary-sweet messages on both sides of the proposed tax. Already, a former city councilor has filed a complaint with the citizen advisory board that monitors elections. The Ethics and Campaign Review Board is set to consider a campaign mailing that didn’t provide the name and phone number of the person responsible. Wechsler has said it came from her camp and the oversight was unintended. 

The last day for city residents to register to vote is April 4. Early voting begins on April 12.

 

 

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