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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Citizens United Led to Philly's Progressive Soda Tax

As previously reported, Philadelphia has become the second city to pass a soda tax.  Revenue from this tax will go towards building safer streets in Philadelphia under Mayor Kenney’s Vision Zero plan, which is good news for bicyclists.

However, many are still unaware of the private funding that Mayor Kenney received to overcome opposition from the Beverage Lobby.  Philadelphia For A Fair Future, a non-profit group, provided funding to Kenney’s Administration, which was used to mount an effective pro-tax campaign.  This non-profit group was formed under 501c(4); meaning, it was allowed to  raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the identity of donors.[1]  Recently, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg - who failed to uphold his own soda ban - admitted that he donated an astounding $1.5 million to Kenney’s non-profit.

Money in politics has become highly topical since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that non-profit groups, which can accept unlimited corporate funding,  do not have to release the names of donors. Under this ruling, corporations can increase their influence on politics by injecting cash into campaigns through anonymous donors. 

Thanks to Citizens United, Kenney was able to solicit anonymous funding.  Had the Beverage Lobby known Bloomberg was one of Kenney's pro-tax funders, one could imagine a different sort of opposition. Indeed, Philadelphians might have thought differently about the soda tax had they known an out-of-state billionaire seeking revenge against the Beverage Lobby paid for Kenney’s television commercials.  Certainly, Bloomberg would have been an easier target than preschoolers

And that’s the irony of the soda tax.   A democrat mayor passed a progressive tax opposed by corporate lobbyists thanks largely in part to Citizen’s United - what is widely considered to be a corporate-friendly ruling.

Kenney has provided other cities with a roadmap for passing a soda tax.  Step one is to seek dark money funding from anti-soda billionaires.  Other cities have already begun planning soda tax legislation.  Bloomberg has already pushed for a soda tax in Seattle and Multonam County, Oregon.[2]  

By: Sean Pryzbylkowski

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