Teamsters to Pro-Soda Tax Lawmakers: No More Campaign Money For You
What do special interest groups want for their campaign donations? Are they looking for favors, access, or just a sympathetic ear? Most of the time, voters can only speculate (and worry) about the answers to those questions. But every so often, someone pulls back the curtain and lets us see the world of political giving with our own eyes.
On June 17th, Teamsters Local 830 secretary-treasurer Danny Grace sent a strongly worded letter to several Council members who voted to enact a soda tax earlier this month. In it, he lambasted lawmakers for supporting “Mayor Kenney’s regressive, discriminatory and likely unconstitutional Beverage Tax.” Grace, whose union represents soda bottlers and truck drivers, wrote that he told Council members time and time again that “this unfair tax that targets only one industry would be ruinous to the Teamsters, leading to the loss of thousands of family-sustaining jobs.” And then he informed them, pretty bluntly, that Teamsters Local 830 wouldn’t be giving them any more campaign money.
“Throughout your time on City Council, the Teamsters have been proud to support you, both with financial contributions and feet on the street during every election cycle,” said Grace. “As a result of your vote to support a regressive, discriminatory tax that will decimate my local and other Teamsters locals in the region that rely on a healthy beverage industry for work, we cannot in good conscience continue to offer you any support whatsoever going forward.”
Some legislators weren’t too happy about the letter. “I have been a friend to the Teamsters and am supportive of the working class,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. “I thought the language was unwarranted and not reflective of the compromises made to pass the tax.” Councilman Mark Squilla said his office threw out the letter before he could read it. “I knew they would be upset,” he said, after an aide described the contents of the letter to him. “It’s just something that’s expected.”
Other Council members said they could see where the Teamsters were coming from. “I think they’re upset,” said Councilman Allan Domb. “I understand why they’re upset.”
I asked Grace for comment, pointing out that the letter made it seem like, when donating to lawmakers, he expected a quid pro quo.
“There is no quid pro quo here, as you so cynically suggest,” he responded. “The fact is that Teamsters Local 830 has asked for nothing from City Council other than fairness. A regressive, discriminatory Beverage Tax that targets one and only one industry — the same industry that supports my members — is the definition of unfairness. … We have every right to be angry with them and we have every right to turn our backs on them as they just did to us.”
In addition to Johnson, Squilla and Domb, the offices of Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Derek Green, Bill Greenlee, Bobby Henon and Cherelle Parker confirmed receiving the letter. Teamsters Local 830 donated $15,350 to Council candidates in 2015 and $3,250 to lawmakers in 2016 as of mid-May, according to the union’s campaign finance reports. Most Council members have received donations from the group in the past year-and-a-half.
Read Grace’s letter in full below:
Your vote in support of Mayor Kenney’s regressive, discriminatory and likely unconstitutional Beverage Tax was incredibly disappointing to my members and to me personally.
Time and again over the past three and a half months, I explained to you how this unfair tax that targets only one industry would be ruinous to the Teamsters, leading to the loss of thousands of family-sustaining jobs. Apparently, you didn’t care. I also told you that the tax would severely hurt small neighborhood shop owners across the city who rely on beverage sales to eke out a living. I have to assume you don’t care about them, either.
Even when the administration was discovered to have earmarked a huge percentage of the annual Beverage Tax revenues for the fund balance, the pension fund, Philadelphia Community College and numerous other pet programs that have nothing to do with children, you somehow rationalized the deceit in your own mind and decided to vote for the outrageous tax anyway. Your action defies logic and good governance.
Throughout your time on City Council, the Teamsters have been proud to support you, both with financial contributions and feet on the street during every election cycle. As a result of your vote to support a regressive, discriminatory tax that will decimate my local and other Teamsters locals in the region that rely on a healthy beverage industry for work, we cannot in good conscience continue to offer you any support whatsoever going forward.
Your support of this unconstitutional tax will land the City of Philadelphia in court where the Teamsters and our coalition partners fully expect to prevail. The damage to our relationship with you, however, has already been done.
Daniel H. Grace
Additional reporting by Jared Brey.
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