Pro-soda tax group will disclose donors, spokesman says

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at a rally held by Philadelphians for a Fair Future. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at a rally held by Philadelphians for a Fair Future. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The private nonprofit promoting Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s plan for a tax on sugary drinks will disclose its donors, a spokesman for the group says. 

At a press conference last week, Kenney introduced “Philadelphians for a Fair Future” — a coalition that includes education advocates, the NAACP and the unions representing teachers and service workers.

“You’re going to hear a lot from ‘Big Soda,'” he said. “It’s going to be an air war. It’s going to be a ground war, and there are going to be lobbyists out the wazoo, all right? And they’re going to be making big money doing it.

“These are my lobbyists,” he said, indicating the coalition backing him. 

Kenney was making the point that his backers are citizens, not well-heeled commercial interests. But the reality is that the group is going to need some serious money to respond to the American Beverage Association’s radio and social media campaign calling the mayor’s proposal a “grocery tax.”

However, it’s not clear just who will be paying for the campaign to support the soda tax. 

Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for Philadelphians for a Fair Future, said the group will go beyond what city law requires and reveal the names of donors, although he would not say how or when that would happen.

“We want to be as transparent as we can be,” he said. “We anticipate that at some point donors and amounts will become public.”

Feeley said Philadelphians for a Fair Future filed with the IRS as a “social welfare” nonprofit or 501(c)4 late last week.

Under the city’s lobbying law, the 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.

“So if they have no funders over 10 percent, if they’re all below 10 percent, they would not have to disclose the sources of their funding,” explained Shane Creamer, executive director of the Philadelphia Ethics Board.

The same rules also apply to the American Beverage Association fighting the tax.

And here’s the other catch: These groups have to submit reports about their spending only if they spend more than $2,500 in a calendar quarter. The filing deadline is 30 days (or the next business day) after a quarter ends.

The first quarter is up on March 31, meaning Philadelphians for a Fair Future and the American Beverage Association have until May 2 to report their spending and, if applicable, their donors. The reporting deadline for the second quarter is Aug. 1, making it likey that these groups would not have to report most of their spending until months after City Council considers the tax. 

The Kenney administration claims the tax would bring in $432 million over five years — although opponents say it would be more like $279 million — to pay for universal pre-K, community schools and a major overhaul of public parks, recreation centers and libraries.

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