Philly Clout: Soda tax war expands to Snapchat

The public-relations war over Mayor Kenney’s sweetened-drinks tax is being fought in courtrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms. To make their cases, the two sides have used TV, radio, Twitter, newspapers, and good ol’ fashioned snail mail, which Clout promptly tosses in the recycling bin.

To recap:

Union Local 830 members protest the beverage tax during St. Patrick's Day Parade last Sunday.

Proponents of the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax say it’s the future of Philadelphia, the only feasible way to fund pre-K and community schools, and rebuild city parks and rec centers. They may on occasion also imply that those who disagree with that assessment are just greedy profiteers who specialize in hating children.

Opponents in the beverage industry, terrified that such a tax could spread to other cities and cut into their profits, have described Kenney’s plan as basically the end of life as we know it. Or, at the very least, an unconstitutional job-killer that discriminates against God-fearing, cola-guzzling Americans.

A legal challenge is pending in Commonwealth Court.

So where do we take this fight in the interim? Snapchat, of course!

The American Beverage Association and Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association are buying “Ax the Bev Tax” geofilters. The filter was available during last week's St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so folks along the parade route could Snapchat about … tax policy … if you’re into that sorta thing. It was also available at City Hall during the budget address this month.

Clout isn’t sure if this is desperate or ingenious, or both, so we checked in with Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax spokesman Anthony Campisi. He went with ingenious.

“We plead guilty to trying to get the word out about the mayor’s regressive tax and to giving Philadelphians more tools to express their anger,” Campisi said. “And since you’re asking about it, we’re clearly being effective.”

Clearly. We asked for more details about the industry-funded Snapchat campaign, but Campisi didn’t want to go there.

“We’re not going to get into specifics of how much we’re spending on our education campaign, but each filter costs about the price of a carton of taxed almond milk,” he said. “And definitely less than what a union Teamster who lost his job because of this tax made in an hour.”

When Kenney flack Lauren Hitt heard that, she went off, saying Campisi’s refusal to disclose the cost “tells you it's enough money to support plenty of Teamster jobs."

“If you added together the cost of that misinformation campaign with how much the soda industry is spending on lawyers to appeal the Common Pleas decision dismissing their case on all counts, you could probably start an entire new plant,” Hitt said. “I'm sure Ax the Tax will also be relieved to hear that consumers can buy any milk substitute, including almond milk, tax-free as long as it's nutritionally equivalent to milk or it's unsweetened."

How did we go from talking about Snapchat to almond milk?

About that tax …

Clout couldn’t help but notice that the Acme in Chestnut Hill is taxing bottles of unsweetened Starbucks coffee and including a label to passive-aggressively complain about Kenney's tax, even though they shouldn’t be taxing that product in the first place.

Yeah, stop doing that, Acme.

(Friday morning update: We're told Acme inadvertently taxed the Starbucks coffee and the problem has been corrected. But if you find other instances of the soda tax being applied to non-taxable beverages, let us know so we can complain/fix it).

Lindy Li for Congress?

Lindy Li said she didn’t expect to be “kicking a hornet's nest” with an email she sent Monday to supporters.

The email started with “Why I’m running,” the words imposed on a picture of Li at a lectern, along with a plea for campaign contributions. A second picture showed Li in Kenney’s office, interviewing him for a Q&A -- “My afternoon with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney” -- published last month by the Huffington Post.

A sample of the questions: “I love how approachable you are.”  

No, really.

We wondered if Li had Kenney's permission to use his picture for political fund-raising. Turns out, not so much.  The mayor's staff apparently found out about the picture from us.

A Kenney spokeswoman on Thursday said: "We did ask her to remove it as soon as it was raised to our attention."

Another thing missing from the email, which was paid for by Li’s congressional political action committee: In what district is the Democrat running next year?

Li, you may remember, originally planned to run last year in the Seventh District against Pat Meehan. She switched up to run in the Sixth District against Ryan Costello. But then she dropped out of the primary at the end of a three-day ballot challenge. Now, she’s back. But not really. At least not yet.

“I think people thought it was an official announcement,” Li said of her email. “I wouldn't announce my campaign that way.”

Li steadfastly refused to be pinned down on where she will be a candidate for public office.

“I know anything I say can and will be used against me,” she advised.  

A Miranda warning.  From a would-be candidate. To herself.  While speaking to Clout. That's a new one.

Quote of the week

“Does anybody want to inspect the balls or the can?” – Kevin Kelly, Philadelphia supervisor of elections, before the seven Democratic candidates for district attorney pulled blue, numbered bingo balls from the social-media savvy Horn & Hardart coffee can Wednesday morning to determine ballot position in the May 16 primary election.

No thanks, Kevin. We're all set.

Staff writers William Bender, Chris Brennan, and Julia Terruso contributed to this column.
benderw@phillynews.com
215-854-5255
@wbender99

Continue Reading