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David Pendered

Campaign strategy: TV ads for transportation sales tax show no local leader, nor any living creature

By David Pendered

One big question that arose last autumn was who would be the face of the campaign for the 1 percent sales tax for transportation that will be on the July 31 ballot in the 10-county metro Atlanta region.

The answer, so far, is: No one.

Two TV ads have been released and neither shows a living creature. Both are comprised solely of computer-generated graphics.

There’s no snippet of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on the stump, as he was for the recent successful campaign to extend a sales tax for the city’s sewer upgrades. No comments from Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, whose skill in presiding over the Atlanta Regional Roundtable resulted in its unanimous vote to create the $6.14 billion list of projects to be paid for with the sales tax.

There’s not even an avatar of anyone involved with the campaign.

Less Traffic. More Jobs. A stronger Economy

Graphics fill the TV ad: “Less Traffic. More Jobs. A stronger Economy.” Credit: Citizens for Transportation Mobility

The visual of the latest ad begins on southbound Ga. 400, approaching I-285. Atlanta’s jam-packed highways are shown as black ribbons tied up in a knot. There’s a touch of surrealism, a la Salvador Dali, as the knot is released by the proposed road and streetcar projects to be funded by the transportation sales tax.

The audio message is warm and inviting, largely because of the familiar tone of the narrator, Scott Pollak. Pollak is a professional voice talent whose credits include WABE-FM, 104.7-FM (The Fish), audio books and an array of corporate work around the country.

The ads evidently fit into the campaign strategy that Che Watkins outlined recently in a presentation to the board that oversees the Atlanta Regional Commission. Watkins, who manages the campaign, did not talk about the two TV ads.

Click here to see the persuasion ad released by CTM.

Click here to see the educational ad released by MAVEN.

Based on Watkins’ description, the campaign strategy has three phases:

  • The first phase, now underway, is to educate all voters about the sales tax campaign;
  • Second, conduct a poll of a representative slice of voters to identify the demographics of voters who are undecided;
  • Third, focus the final persuasion campaign on the undecided voters in order to swing them to support the 1 percent sales tax for transportation; ignore voters expected to vote ‘no’ and voters expected to vote ‘yes.’

Following the poll, Watkins said the campaign will consider voters and:

“We’ll divide them by ‘hard no,’ ‘hard yes,’ and ‘swing.’ We’ll ignore the ‘hard no’s’ and have them go to Hawaii, maybe, on the 31st [election day]. We’ll target swing voters and educate them more about what we’re doing and what this about.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed does not appear in TV ads promoting the sales tax for transportation.

As campaign manager, Watkins oversees two non-profit organizations working on behalf of the proposed transportation sales tax – Citizens for Transit Mobility (CTM) and MAVEN (Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network).

Both groups were associated at their start with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Watkins served as the chamber’s vice president of external affairs before stepping down to lead the sales tax campaign after the former manager, Glenn Totten, resigned in August 2011.

Watkins said she hopes the campaign will purchase more television advertising – money permitting.

“We’re trying to raise a bit more money to do a bit more TV,” Watkins said. “Over $5 million has been raised. We’re $1.8 million away from our goal.”

No campaign disclosures have been filed, and none are required by the state to be filed until 15 days before the election. CTM expects to file a disclosure in May, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Watkins said, the campaign staff is working on earned media, which typically is defined as a news story created by a journalist.

Bucky Johnson

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who presided over the Atlanta Regional Roundtable that unanimously approved the project list, does not appear in TV ads for the sales tax.

“Before, there were some negative articles, and now our team is being able to turn the tide,” Watkins said. “We won’t be able to turn everyone, but we have some points and counterpoints.”

As the campaign nears its end, Watkins said the focus will shift from persuading voters to support the sales tax to getting them to cast their ballots.

“It will be about absentee ballots and turnout,” Watkins said.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. inatl April 9, 2012 11:36 am

    Why are the backers of MAVEN not disclosed?  I have been looking for a list but so far have had no luck.   
    I did see this comment by someone on another board that makes a good point.
    “It’s lousy policy to subsidize highways with general sales taxes, lousy policy that those with 30 mile commutes pay the same transportation tax as those with commutes of 3 miles, and lousy policy that Fulton and DeKalb pay twice as much regional transportation tax as other counties. The identified projects would be much better funded by a general sales tax of one-third or four-tenths of a cent (for transit), and a dime a gallon tax increase (or whatever amount that would be revenue neutral for the highway component).”Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 9, 2012 4:40 pm

       Even if our sniveling and spineless political leaders did not want to take the heat for making the decision to increase gas taxes, IMHO, the state could have still at the very least proposed a long-overdue increase in the gas tax and put it up for a vote by region in the same way that they’re putting up this sales tax for a vote.
      But, I forgot, they can likely get more money to play around with (as in giveaways to special interests in return for more campaign contributions, money and “gifts” from lobbyists) by applying a sales tax to everything than they can by raising the gas tax.
      The cynical part of me (which is unfortunately a very big part of me) says that a large component of getting this tax approved is about cronyism and kickbacks more than it is about making long-overdue critically-needed transportation improvements.
      Don’t get me wrong, there are many needs that will finally get addressed if this thing passes, but there also seems to be some items that are not necessarily all that clearly defined that look to leave room for the old standby, the common “misallocation of funds” to occur. Report

    2. Burroughston Broch April 9, 2012 10:21 pm

       @inatl Here’s a little grist for your mill. In it you will find the usual cast of suspects.
      Follow this link for MAVEN’s speakers list: http://www.transformmetroatlanta.com/maven-speakers-bureau/list-of-speakers/. You will recognize many on the list.
      The registered agent is Dewitt Rogers, a Troutman Sanders attorney. The present CEO is Robert Voyles whom I think is CEO of Seven Oaks Company, a developer.. The present CFO and Secretary is Brad Alexander of McGuireWoods Consulting, a public affairs/strategy firm. The corporate address is Troutman Sanders’ office.
      Prior to that, the CEO, CFO and Secretary was Renay Blumenthal of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the corporate address was that of the Chamber.Report

      1. inatl April 11, 2012 12:42 pm

         @Burroughston Broch Yea I saw another list that had all the big road builders and engineering firms supporting it.
        this is a well funded campaign that makes people believe we can pave our way out of congestion or that we will not have jobs if we don’t agree to pay more. Report

        1. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 11, 2012 3:10 pm

           @inatl  @Burroughston Broch
           While many of the big roadbuilding and engineering firms support the TIA/T-SPLOST for their own financial gain, I seriously cannot argue against most of the road improvements on the project list as not only has the State of Georgia severely neglected transit needs, but they have also severely neglected road needs over the last couple-of-decades and have virtually completely ignored all transportation needs in the realms of both roads and rail since the Olympics.
          There’s no way that I can argue against LONG-overdue improvements to often gridlocked junctions like I-285/GA 400 North, I-285/I-20 West, I-285/I-20 East and to crucial roadways like GA 141/Peachtree Parkway through Gwinnett, Windy Hill Road through Smyrna, GA 20/Buford Drive, etc, each of which are in severe need of widening from their current 4 lanes to 6 lanes.
          From my experience driving (and being stuck in daytime traffic) on every major roadway in the metro area in a job that requires an EXCEPTIONAL amount of driving (I’ve been stuck in traffic on every major roadway in the Atlanta Region, I’ve also driven past each of the 130-plus QuikTrip gas stations in the Atlanta Region), the road improvements, especially the surface road improvements (along obviously with the proposed rail transit improvements) don’t go anywhere near far enough in helping alleviate congestion and improve mobility.
          I fully and completely agree that there critically needs to be a long-overdue focus on improving access to mass transit in what has grown into the largest metro area in the U.S., east of the Mississippi River without commuter rail service and some of the longest commute times and highest miles driven in any metro area on the entire planet. 
          But even if and when the focus finally turns to improving access to transit, there still needs to be (an increased and continued) commitment to improving and upgrading what has also been a long-neglected road network as even new roads and existing roads continue to be built, widened and reconstructed in transit-heavy cities on the continent and even around the globe.
          Keep-in-mind that Georgia’s 49th-place almost dead-last national ranking in transportation funding doesn’t just apply to transit, but also applies to roads as well.Report

        2. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 11, 2012 3:35 pm

           @inatl  @Burroughston Broch
           The only road construction project on the list that I strongly disagree with is the project to extend Sugarloaf Parkway from GA 316 North and Northwest to new interchanges with I-85, GA 20, I-985 & Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett County.
          I agree that this roadway extension is severely-needed to provide a limited-access link from I-85 Southbound to I-985 Northbound and vice-versa to provide greatly-needed relief to the severely peak-hour congested Mall of Georgia area.
          But despite the pressing need for the project, the best means of funding that particular project would be the use of tolls rather than TIA/T-SPLOST funds as evidenced by the fact that Gwinnett County plans to proceed with the project using tolls in the event that the TIA/T-SPLOST referendum fails.
          User fees in the form of tolls are the best way to fund the last-phase of the Sugarloaf Parkway extension so that the T-SPLOST funds that are being used to fund the project can be used to fund other sorely-needed transportation projects that cannot pay for themselves with user fees (like improvements to surface roads, etc). Report

      2. inatl April 11, 2012 12:44 pm

         @Burroughston Broch oh yea and the 15% that goes to the cities and county’s is designed to make sure all the government figures tow the line.  Sad thing is much of that 15% is needed to cover road repaving that GDOT stopped funding. 
        And the 15% figure goes up if the a project doesn’t get built.   I can see the Clifton Rail not getting built.  And who knows what the 600-700 billion Cobb “enhanced bus” project is that was subbed in at the last hour. Report

        1. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 11, 2012 1:44 pm

           @inatl  @Burroughston Broch
          “And who knows what the 600-700 billion Cobb “enhanced bus” project is that was subbed in at the last hour.”
          Hint:  Reversible HOT Lanes on Interstates 75 & 575 in Cobb and Cherokee Counties, a corridor of the state that Governor Deal actually LOST to Karen Handel in the 2010 GOP Gubernatorial Primary, a project which would just happen to conveniently be completed before Governor Deal comes up for re-election in 2014.
          Poltics my friend, politics…

        2. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 11, 2012 2:03 pm

           @inatl  @Burroughston Broch
          “And who knows what the 600-700 billion Cobb “enhanced bus” project is that was subbed in at the last hour.”
          Hint:  Reversible HOT Lanes on Interstates 75 & 575 in Cobb and Cherokee Counties, a corridor of the state that Governor Deal actually LOST to Karen Handel in the 2010 GOP Gubernatorial Primary, a project which would just happen to conveniently be completed before Governor Deal comes up for re-election in 2014.
          Politics my friend, politics…Report

        3. inatl April 11, 2012 4:53 pm

           @The Last Democrat in Georgia  @Burroughston Broch are you just assuming?  Report

  2. Cynical April 12, 2012 11:01 pm

    Does anyone know if the “Dave Stockert, Chairman” listed on the “Vote Yes July 31 Untie Atlanta” flyer that arrived this week is David P. Stockert of Atlanta’s Post Properties? I realize that executives earning in excess of 1.5 million dollars per year may have some really great organizing skills. However, having someone like this in charge of a campaign to “help the people” makes me think that big payoffs are waiting in the wings. Also, whenever I see “Chamber of Commerce” connected with any venture I’m immediately suspicious about bad things happening. As with “The Last Democrat in Georgia” I’m very cynical.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 13, 2012 1:59 am

      “Does anyone know if the “Dave Stockert, Chairman” listed on the “Vote Yes July 31 Untie Atlanta” flyer that arrived this week is David P. Stockert of Atlanta’s Post Properties?”
      Yeah, I think that they are the same guy as identified in this article by David Pendered that appeared here on the Saporta Report website on March 26, 2012.  Here’s a link to that article/blog entry with some links in the article itself that may be able to help you out some more:
      From the article:
      “CTM (Citizens for Transportation Mobility, Inc.) first registered as a non-profit the same day it filed with the state campaign finance commission. The paperwork shows the initial board of directors included three local business leaders: Bill Linginfelter, an area president of Regions Bank; David Stockert, president/CEO of Post Properties; and Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.”Report

    2. inatl April 13, 2012 11:16 am

      By making it a regressive sales tax that includes essential groceries, folks like Post Properties get the best of all worlds.  They pay very little of their wealth on the tax because they spend a tiny portion of their income as they are able to save most of it.   But they developers and land speculators and property owners stand to make the most as the new roads funded by taxes on much of the masses wages (since we end up having to spend most of our income) lead make access to properties easier that can be flipped, developed and rented, leased or sold. Report

  3. Burroughston Broch April 13, 2012 4:38 pm

    politics and investing are a lot alike.
    you’re making fame and fortune for yourself by using someone else’s money.
    with politics you must keep the voters happy.
    with investing you must keep the board of directos happy.
    no wonder politicians and investors sleep together.

  4. 82bravesforever June 29, 2012 4:47 pm

    Dave Stockert is a developer. 
    And yes, this is very likely a redevelopment effort at the taxpayers expense.  Bet new “light rail” will head straight to land he and his investors are sitting on.   WAKE UP ATLANTA!Report


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