Here’s who bankrolled Philadelphia’s pro-soda tax effort

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's political committee gave $50

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's political committee gave $50

You may remember Philadelphia City Council passed — and Mayor Jim Kenney signed — a 1.5 cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened beverages back in June. However, most of the donors who supported the pro-tax campaign are only just coming to light.

According to a lobbying expense report filed with the city’s ethics board last Thursday, 24 donors helped the cause, including the American Federation of Teachers union and the mayor’s own political committee. Both gave $50,000 to Philadelphians For a Fair Future, a private nonprofit created to collect money for a campaign backing the tax. 

PFF spent more than $2.1 million on ads, polls and staff that coordinated more than 80 groups supporting the tax on Kenney’s behalf. One group, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, shelled out $57,000 of its own resources, according to executive director Donna Cooper. The revenue from the soda tax will help fund the mayor’s priorities, such as expanding pre-K and a major overhaul of parks, recreation centers and libraries.

In a separate effort, the American Heart Association spent $334,000 on lobbying council members, ads and phone banking.

All told, roughly $2.5 million was spent promoting the tax.

It pales in comparison to the $10.6 million the American Beverage Association spent fighting what it called a regressive “grocery tax.” According to disclosure reports filed this week and in April, money for the anti-tax effort came from three sources: the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Pepsico America’s Beverages.

Despite spending more than four times as much as the pro-tax groups, the ABA ultimately failed to win over a city council that was largely willing to give the new mayor a victory because of the projects it would fund. Still, the No Philly Grocery Tax Coalition, which has threatened to sue the city to stop the tax, says it was money well-spent. 

“Because of our efforts, local grocers, retailers, restaurants, organized labor and citizens learned the truth about the regressive and discriminatory tax proposal,” said spokesman Anthony Campisi in a statement. 

Pro-tax contributions range from $100 to more than $1 million

Under the city’s lobbying law, a group only has to report its donors if it engages in lobbying and then, only donors who give 10 percent or more of everything it gets in a given reporting period. It does not require them to list how much they gave.

However, in its report filed last week, ahead of Monday’s deadline, spokesman Kevin Feeley said PFF listed all of its donors. After a WHYY inquiry, Feeley provided the amounts of their contributions “in the interest of transparency,” he said.

We’ve known since June that most of the money for the pro-tax campaign came from billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. He gave about $1.6 million. Billionaire philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, who made their money in the energy sector and hedge funds chipped in about $400,000 through their Action Now Initiative.

According to the new report, a Philadelphia-based property management firm, Callowhill Center Associates gave $500,000. 

After Bloomberg, the Arnolds and Callowhill Center Associates, the largest donations came from the AFT and Kenney’s political committee, Kenney 2015. Both gave $50,000.

1484 Brockett Road Associates, which is listed as having a Rosemont, Pa. address and is registered as a limited liability company in Georgia, gave $25,000. 

The New Jersey-based Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, which since a February merger has represented union workers in Pennsylvania, gave $15,000. It is worth noting the carpenters’ PAC gave $750,000 to another super PAC that gave $725,000 to support Kenney’s mayoral campaign last spring.

“As union folks, we really like to make sure our communities are well-invested in,” said political director Tricia Mueller. “Not to mention being supportive of the mayor. Of course, jobs may come from this as it relates to the schools and rec centers.”

Other contributions ranged from $5,000 from Dilworth Paxson, an influential Center City law firm, to smaller donations of $250 from Allison Fumo Bassman – disgraced former state Sen. Vice Fumo’s daughter – and $100 from Philadelphia-based Shelly Electric Company.

According to Feeley, most of the money was raised by PFF staff, but Kenney solicited a small number of donations as the council vote neared.

Here is the full list of donors to PFF:

1484 Brockett Road Associates, LLC: $25,000
Action Now Initiative, funded by John and Laura Arnold: $400,000
Allison Fumo Bassman, employee at Independence Blue Cross: $250
American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, labor union: $50,000
Callowhill Center Associates, property management firm: $500,000
Centra Associates, Philadelphia-based real estate company: $1,000
David Seltzer, founder of Mercator Advisors and chairman of Philadelphia Gas Works: $250
Dilworth Paxson, Center City law firm: $5,000
Domus, Philadelphia-based general contractor: $1,000
Gaetan John Alfano, attorney at Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP: $500
Gannett Fleming Companies, engineering firm: $5,000
Julia Ericksen, Temple University sociology professor emeritus: $100
Kenney 2015, political committee: $50,000
Leonidas Savas Addimando, managing partner of Alterra Property Group: $2,000
Lomax Real Estate, LP, real estate development firm: $1,000
Mel Heifitz, real estate mogul and gay rights advocate: $5,000
Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City: $1,635,000
Noam Kugelmass, entrepreneur: $100
Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, regional labor union: $15,000
Orens Brothers Real Estate, real estate development firm: $1,000
Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP, Center City law firm: $500
Russell Howard Harris, physician: $500
Sandy Sheller, therapist and president The Sheller Family Foundation: $1,000
Shelly Electric Company, electrical contractor: $100 

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