Opposition spends big to block sugary-drinks tax

How much have groups for and against the soda tax spent so far on the fight?

The American Beverage Association poured $1.5 million into the fight against Mayor Kenney's proposed sugary-drinks tax during the month after the plan was introduced in early March, lobbying reports released Tuesday show.

And that was before the association took its message to television.

"We have and will continue to take the steps necessary to inform Philadelphians about the truth of this grocery-tax proposal," said Anthony Campisi, spokesman for the No Philly Grocery Tax Coalition, using the opposition's shorthand for Kenney's tax on sugary drinks.

The coalition has been largely funded by the beverage association.

The lobbying disclosures were released on the same day it was reported that Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a nonprofit supporting the proposed three-cents-per-ounce tax, is being backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The group did not file a lobbying report for the first quarter of the year because it made no expenditures during that time, according to spokesman Kevin Feeley. It has since spent $825,000 on advertising that will run on broadcast TV, radio, and online starting Thursday and continuing for three weeks, Feeley said.

The antitax coalition has spent $2.6 million on airtime.

Combined, the ad buys are large enough to ensure that nearly every Philadelphian will hear from both sides several times, according to J.J. Balaban, a partner at the Campaign Group who specializes in political advertising. For context, Balaban said, Katie McGinty spent about $1 million in Philadelphia over seven weeks during her recent U.S. Senate race.

"It's spending a lot of money, given that fundamentally this isn't about persuading the people of Philadelphia," Balaban said. "It's about persuading the 17 members of City Council."

Bloomberg, who funded successful soda-tax campaigns in Berkeley, Calif., and Mexico, did not get involved the two times a tax was proposed in Philadelphia by Mayor Michael Nutter.

"We are very big fans of former Mayor Nutter, but I think the political circumstances are different," said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Bloomberg, who worked on the push to ban large sodas in New York. "This was obviously a major issue in the campaign, and in some respects, I think the new mayor has something of a mandate to get this done, so we think that the opportunities for success are greater."

Bloomberg's entry into the fray drew criticism Tuesday from the antitax contingent. Campisi called it a "desperate" act by the Kenney administration.

Danny Grace, secretary for the Teamsters union, whose members deliver beverages, in a statement said Bloomberg was "coming into our city to force low-income Philadelphians to pay dearly in order to fulfill their own personal agendas."

Feeley countered that Bloomberg was interested only in "helping to implement good public policy."

The bulk of the $1.5 million spent by the American Beverage Association in March went to indirect communication including radio and print advertising. About $20,000 went towards lobbying Council and Kenney, according to the report.

It's hard to know how much the association has spent in total, because the report doesn't provide an itemized breakdown.

But the antitax coalition has spent $2.6 million on television and radio ad buys, according to orders placed with TV and radio stations compiled by the Snyder Pickerill Media Group, whose founding partner, Ken Snyder, is working for the tax.

Some of that money overlaps with the $1.5 million included in the first-quarter report. But the group did not make any television ad buys in the first quarter, meaning its overall spending has likely topped $3 million.

The Coca-Cola Co. spent $20,000 between March 21 and the end of the month on lobbying, according to a lobbying report released Tuesday.

Though the pro-tax contingent didn't make any expenditures during the first quarter, it did commission a poll.

The survey of 701 Philadelphians, taken in March before the antitax ads started airing, showed 43 percent of respondents had strong support for the tax, as opposed to 29 percent strongly opposed. According to a summary of the results, the respondents were presented with a "balanced explanation of the proposal" before being asked questions.

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730@TriciaNadolny