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Free-market coalition funded video opposing soda tax

SANTA FE – The mystery behind who was behind an anti-soda tax web video that was the subject of a complaint filed with Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board has been revealed.

Interstate Policy Alliance, a national coalition of free-market think tanks based in Washington, D.C., is listed as having made a $7,500 in-kind contribution to the Rio Grande Foundation on a campaign finance statement the foundation filed with the city clerk’s office Monday.

The Rio Grande Foundation – a libertarian-leaning Albuquerque-based nonprofit group – entered the debate over whether the city should impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages by releasing a sparsely viewed animated video criticizing the tax and Mayor Javier Gonzales as part an “education initiative” the foundation said was intended to counter a deceptive campaign in favor of the tax.

The tax proposal was soundly defeated, with 58 percent of voters saying “no,” in a May 2 special election.

Last month, retired attorney Edward Stein filed a complaint with the ethics board, claiming the Rio Grande Foundation qualified as a political committee under the city’s election code and is required to file finance disclosure statements. The board agreed and subsequently ordered the foundation to file a campaign finance report. At that hearing, an attorney for the foundation said the board’s ruling “opened the door” for a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds.

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, said in an email to the Journal on Monday he wouldn’t discuss the possibility of a lawsuit. He also said because the foundation didn’t accrue expenses it didn’t report any to the city. “As no money was spent to create these items on our part, this is all we’re disclosing,” said Gessing, who added that Interstate Policy Alliance also paid for its “No Way Santa Fe” website about the soda tax.

According to its own website, “The Interstate Policy Alliance is a foundation-supported partnership between free-market oriented think tanks on the state and national level. The Alliance exists to support and promote state-based research on the benefits of private enterprise, the unintended consequences of intrusive regulation, and the cost to taxpayers when government chooses winners and losers.”

Liberal groups have blasted the group for allegedly spreading “industry spin and disinformation,” and the blog for the progressive Center for American Progress has called the alliance’s backer Richard Berman “Dr. Evil.”

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