Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stands a strong chance of winning a second term this year. But Michael Bloomberg, a fan of Kenney’s sweetened beverage tax, isn’t taking any chances.
Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who toyed with but then abandoned a presidential bid, pumped $1 million last week into Forward Together Philadelphia, an independent political action committee now airing television ads in support of Kenney’s reelection, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday.
That’s one of three independent PACs on pace to outspend Kenney and his two Democratic challengers on May 21 — State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz — combined. And the sweetened beverage tax is driving much of the spending.
Together, the committees — Forward Together Philadelphia, Philly 2019, and the American Beverage Association — have spent more than $1 million to air television commercials in the city. Bloomberg’s contribution is by far the single biggest infusion of independent money.
Philly 2019, a new PAC funded by the region’s building trades unions, started airing ads last month. That PAC reported raising $270,000 in the last 30 days, with $200,000 of it coming from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Local 98 leader John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, a Kenney ally, helped push for City Council support for the so-called soda tax. Dougherty, Councilman Bobby Henon, and six other union officials were indicted in January, accused of embezzling more than $600,000 from Local 98. All deny the charges and have pleaded not guilty.
Kenney’s sweetened beverage tax, which supports pre-K programs, community schools, parks, recreation centers and libraries, has drawn the ire of the beverage association, which spent $16.2 million from 2016 to 2018 lobbying against it.
Bloomberg also donated $1.7 million in 2016 to Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a nonprofit set up to defend the tax, which was approved by City Council that year and faced legal challenges.
Forward Together Philadelphia also received $150,000 from the American Federation of Teachers in Washington and $100,000 from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers last month. The PAC reported spending $913,159 from April 2 through Monday.
The PAC is chaired by Kevin Vaughan, who was appointed to the state authority that has oversight of the city’s budget by Gov. Tom Wolf, at Kenney’s suggestion. Vaughn chaired a similarly named PAC in 2015 that spent $1.4 million, including money from teachers unions, to support Kenney’s first bid for mayor.