Crunch day for sales tax: Campaign financial disclosure due, plus response to dismal poll results
By David Pendered
Monday is a crunch day for the campaign team stumping for voters in metro Atlanta to approve a 1 percent sales tax for transportation.
The first campaign disclosure is due Monday. The campaign leadership must decide whether to meet the deadline, or to wait and file by July 23 – when the grace period ends for showing how much money has been raised and from whom, and how much was spent, with whom, and for what purpose.
Monday also is the first day advocates will conduct a campaign event since a new poll shows voter support for the sales tax has slumped to 33 percent. Support has dropped and opposition increased during the past two months, according to polling conducted on behalf of WSB-TV.
The campaign disclosure will be the first indication since March of who has contributed to the campaign in order to influence the outcome of the July 31 referendum. It will be the first clue as to whether the campaign raised the $6 million to $8 million that once was a general target.
Since that time, the campaign seems to have targeted advertising on potential supporters who reside outside I-285. The messages highlighted roadway improvements and paid scant attention to the fact that more than half the $6.14 billion to be raised will be spent on transit – much of it serving the region’s urban core, including a bus route linking north Cobb County with a MARTA rail station.
The campaign strategy tacked in recent weeks. Now, pieces distributed by direct mail – a costly way to communicate – include a message from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urging voters to support transit and roads.
Four months ago, the campaign released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a partial list of donors. The idea was to show the breadth and depth of support from the business community for the 1 percent sales tax.
The report did not show the amount donated, or whether the donation were cash or in-kind services. Nor did the report indicate how much money had been spent, on what, and with whom.
The shift in strategy coincided with dwindling public support revealed in polls conducted by Rosetta Stone Communications on behalf of WSB-TV.
Overall support for the transportation sales tax has dropped by 8 percent from May through July 11, polls show. Outright opposition has increased by 10 percent, to 56 percent, polls showed.
The margin of error is plus/minus 3 percent.
The polls show support is eroding across the board – across race, gender, Republican, Democrat – despite the advertising campaign overseen by a campaign team drawn largely from a pool of campaign specialists who have a history of winning in Republican campaigns.
After the last poll showed dwindling support, a strong counterpoint was emailed to chamber members by Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
No such statement has appeared yet.
Here’s part of the message sent out in June under Williams signature:
“WSB released a poll this afternoon (June 29). The results are in stark contrast to the results of our own as will happen many times in the ensuing weeks. We do not know anything about the methodology used by WSB’s pollster but we have confidence in ours.”