Soda companies bankrolled $604K in Philly election spending
(Philadelphia) — The American Beverage Association has spent $604,000 on ads attacking Mayor Jim Kenney and the city’s sweetened beverage tax as the Philadelphia municipal election nears, according to a campaign finance report filed Tuesday.
Meanwhile Philly 2019, a super PAC funded by local building trades unions, has spent $448,000 on ads supporting Kenney, the reports show.
The required reports show that outside groups not bound by the city’s contribution limits are spending more in the municipal primary than the three mayoral candidates, who can accept only donations under the limits imposed by city law.
Illuminating dark money
The beverage industry filings wouldn’t be required in most campaigns around the country because the American Beverage Association is technically a nonprofit charitable organization, an entity not typically required to disclose its donors.
Funding from such organizations is often called “dark money” in campaigns, since it offers a chance for anonymous donors to influence elections.
Philadelphia City Council has enacted laws requiring all groups that spend more than $5,000 to influence city elections to file reports disclosing their contributions and spending.
“We want the make sure the public gets information about who’s funding all political expenditures to influence campaigns, regardless of how they’re organized,” said Shane Creamer, executive director of the Philadelphia Board or Ethics, which worked with Council to impose the requirements and enforces them in campaigns.
Super PACs, such as Philly 2019, are political committees that can accept unlimited donations and spend unlimited sums, but they are required to regularly disclose their donors and spending.
The beverage association ads sharply criticize Kenney and the tax, but they don’t tell voters whom they should support in the mayor’s race. Instead, they end by urging voters to tell City Council to repeal the tax.
The ads fit the description of an “electioneering communication” under the city regulations, so the association is required to file reports disclosing its donors.
The ABA’s report shows its spending in the Philadelphia primary election was funded entirely by beverage companies, including Keurig, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi North American Beverages, Red Bull North America Inc., and the Coca-Cola Company.
The beverage association and Philly 2019, the union-funded super PAC, have spent more than $1 million so far on the campaign.
Mayor Kenney’s campaign has spent about $497,000 in 2019 on the race. His challengers, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz and state Sen. Anthony Williams, have spent $79,000 and $24,000 respectively, according their most recent filings two weeks ago.
WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.