By David Pendered
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has funded the entire campaign for the extension of the 1 percent sales tax to pay for sewer upgrades with a $50,000 loan from his 2010 inaugural committee, according to a campaign finance disclosure.
Reed’s inaugural committee has provided the only funds received by the MOST campaign, according to a disclosure filed Feb. 24 with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Of the loaned sum, the campaign has spent $30,000 on polling and $5,000 on media – all of it with two firms located outside of Georgia.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce is hosting at least three campaign materials on its website in advance of the March 6 referendum. One file is a letter signed by three former mayors (Shirley Franklin, Sam Massell, and Andrew Young) urging readers to support the campaign and contribute to it. Two other files are fact-based documents about the purpose of the MOST and its use in the federally mandated $4 billion sewer upgrade.
Reed provided the loan because no other source of money was available to start the campaign, according to Sonji Jacobs, Reed’s spokesperson. The fundraising campaign has started just recently, Jacobs said.
“The [MOST] campaign committee is out fundraising right now, but because they are under such a short timeline, Mayor Reed needed to have funds in hand for the clean water campaign,” Jacobs said.
“After vetting this with legal counsel, he moved ahead with transferring $50,000 from his inaugural committee to the clean water campaign as a loan that will be repaid,” Jacobs said. “The campaign expects to raise significant dollars to educate voters about the MOST.”
Reed’s photo is prominent on two campaign cards that were mailed to homes in Atlanta. The oversized postcards were produced by the same firm, The Campaign Group, Inc., of Philadelphia, Pa. that lists Reed as a client for his mayoral campaign, according to the disclosure and the firm’s webpage.
Jabobs responded to the use of Reed’s photo on the campaign materials by saying the mayor strongly supports passage of the MOST referendum.
“The mayor believes that continuation of the 1 cent, penny sales tax will help prevent water rates from increasing by 20 to 30 percent,” Jacobs said.
The MOST campaign’s officers include Atlanta lawyer Robert Highsmith as treasurer, the same role he played for Reed’s mayoral campaign; and former mayor Young, as chairman, the same role he played in the 2008 MOST campaign.
Polling has been conducted by a firm that worked for the Obama presidential campaign and a host of Democratic candidates. One of the firm’s four case studies on its website is a successful campaign by Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa to distribute taxpayer funded condoms to low-income, uninsured women.
The company, Anzalone Liszt Research, has offices in Washington, New York and Montgomery, Ala., according to its website.
The last time Atlanta voters faced a MOST referendum was in 2004. That campaign was handled somewhat differently.
In the campaign disclosure comparable to the current one that was filed Feb. 24, the 2008 campaign reported zero contributions, zero loans and zero expenses. The treasurer was Atlanta lawyer Steve Leeds, who supported Obama and other Democratic candidates.
At the end of 2008, the final campaign disclosure reported a total shortfall of $14,479. It showed cash contributions of $148,000 and in-kind contributions of $8,278.46.
Major funders of the 2008 campaign were Georgia Pacific, at $15,000, and Parsons, of California, at $10,000.
The largest expense was for a telephone campaign, which cost just over $143,000, according to the disclosure report.