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Spending tops $3.2 million in Santa Fe's sugary-drink tax election.

One Last Gulp

Santa Fe’s sugary-drink tax election saw spending jump in the campaign’s final week

May 1, 2017, 3:00 pm

As the effort to convince Santa Fe voters to levy a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks entered the last few days before the election, new campaign reports show that spending by both sides topped $3 million—marking Santa Fe as battleground in a proxy war between Big Soda and media mogul Michael Bloomberg. 

After years of unsuccessful attempts to tack on taxes to sugary drinks that some blame for the rise in obesity and diabetes, a number of cities have recently passed such measures. The spending shows both sides would consider a victory in Santa Fe to be an important one.

A last-minute push by advocates, including a $234,000 media buy, outpaced contributions to the group, leaving a negative balance of $140,000 on its books. But in an election where some hope marketing dollars equate votes, they outspent Big Soda by $60,000 through April 30. About 8,000 early and absentee voters have cast ballots so far. Early voting closed on Friday, and Election Day is tomorrow.

Opponents latched on to the overspending. "If they can’t run a fiscally sound campaign, why should the people of Santa Fe trust them to responsibly manage the funding for pre-K?" Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K's David Huynh tells SFR in a statement. "Voters should keep the pro-tax campaign’s irresponsible spending in mind as they head to the polls tomorrow."

There's no indication that either of the two political consultants running the advocacy campaign will have a role in administering expanded pre-K programs, should voters approve the tax.

"We continue to be grateful for the support of Michael Bloomberg for our effort to bring Pre-K to Santa Fe’s kids who can’t afford it. We're up against the soda industry, who will spend endless amounts and say anything to the community to protect their profits," emailed one of the consultants, Sandra Wechsler, for Pre-K for Santa Fe. 

Along with Eli Il Yong Lee, Wechsler runs the pro-tax group that has spent a total of $1.66 million in the election. The group reported taking in just a couple hundred dollars cash during the last week, but benefited from $37,000 from OLÉ, or Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, an Albuquerque-based progressive advocacy group that paid for door-to-door campaigning and mailers. It also took in $17,000 in media buys and consulting fees paid for by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s total for the election topped $750,000.

Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K, a group funded almost exclusively by the American Beverage Association, has raised and spent $1.6 million dollars so far. The ABA wired $365,000 to the campaign on April 26. For the election, the ABA has contributed $1.345 million in cash, plus additional in-kind donations. The local Coca-Cola distributing franchise continued to pay employees to work on the campaign, and The Coca-Cola Company, based in Atlanta, has paid for “employee time, transportation and lodging” during the election.

While touting itself as the underdog, Pre-K for Santa Fe raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind spending on strategy, research and media buys from Bloomberg, who took on Big Soda by trying to limit the size of sodas sold in New York City.

By April 7, Pre-K for Santa Fe said it had raised a little more than $100,000, though Bloomberg. OLÉ kept the effort close through in-kind spending. Bloomberg actually chipped in $400,000 cash on April 7, the day the first reports came out, though the money wasn’t reported until April 25.

Tax advocates have also had a boost from the American Heart Association, which donated time and campaign materials for the effort. The group has lately tried to capitalize on the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s endorsement of the measure, featuring it prominently in TV commercials over the weekend.

Anti-tax spending outpaced that of tax advocates early, with $800,000 in cash pouring in to Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K from the American Beverage Association by the second reporting deadline on April 7. That money slowed over the two and a half weeks until the next reporting date; nevertheless, the group wired another $180,000 for the effort, bringing its total before today to $980,000.

Much of the group’s money was spent early-on, farmed out to high-powered out-of-state political consulting groups. Still, Better Way’s spending included flooding the airwaves with television commercials during the last week. The ads feature an array of Santa Feans making familiar arguments against the tax. Better Way also spent $10,000 on work by Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff.

Smart Progress New Mexico, a minor player on the anti-tax side of the election, reported raising $250 in cash, with its fundraising and spending topping $13,000.

 

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