Anti-tax coalition, meet pro-tax coalition.
On March 3, Mayor Kenney announced his proposal for a three-cent per-ounce sugary drinks tax and the American Beverage Association launched "No Philly Grocery Tax," an unincorporated coalition they are backing to fight the proposal.
Last week, Philadelphians for a Fair Future – a pro-soda tax group, filed as a 501c4, defined by the IRS as a "social welfare" nonprofit. Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Philadelphians for a Fair Future said the group will disclose its donors after more than $2,500 expenditures are made in a quarter, as required by city lobbying law.
"To be clear, PFF has no wish to conduct itself with anything less than complete transparency as we join the public discussion in support of the Mayor's budget proposals," Feeley said in an email.
As a 501c4, the group can raise money to put toward direct and indirect lobbying (think billboards, radio and TV ads), setting up the possibility for more of an air war than we saw the first two times a soda taxed was proposed.
As for whose wallets are backing the mayor's agenda through the group? Under the Philadelphia Code, the organization must provide the names of any individual, corporation or business entity that contributes more than 10 percent of the total received each quarter. The law does not require the nonprofit to specify how much each person gave.
Shane Cramer, executive director of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, said the move amounts to standard lobbying, a form of petitioning the government protected under the first amendment.
"They're fully in their rights to lobby city government on any pending legislation or administrative action," Cramer said. "The public is entitled to know about the details of paid efforts to influence official decision making, so that's why Philadelphia, just like every other major city and all major fifty states, have lobbying disclosure requirements that include the public disclosure of the details of these paid efforts to either directly or indirectly influence decision making."
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