“For goodness’ sake, that’s so starkly inappropriate,” Ehrhart said. “It’s using tax money.”
Cumberland CID Chairman Tad Leithead said he recently met with the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, which his CID has already given $300,000 to in order to “educate” voters about the referendum by running TV ads.
“CIDs have been a big contributor to the education campaign, so the MAVEN folks had a meeting to update us on what MAVEN was doing with our money and to show us the ads before they went on TV, all of which was greatly appreciated, and at that meeting they mentioned that they were going to do as much TV as they possibly could that the budget would allow, and they said if they had more money that they could do more TV, and it would have the effect of reaching out to more people,” said Leithead, who also chairs the Atlanta Regional Commission, the transportation planning agency for the 10 county metro region that provided data to help the Atlanta Regional Roundtable come up with list of projects which will be voted on.
The CIDs in metro Atlanta had already funded MAVEN by about $1.5 million, and along with funds from other sources, had a $2.1 million pot of money to spend on “education.”
“And they just said ‘if you had another 500 grand, there’s no more production cost, there’s no more administration cost, we could spend 100 percent of that on additional educational ads on TV,’ so those of us that are associated with CIDs and all of us were in the meeting agreed that we would come back to our respective boards and see if the CID boards were of a mind to make an additional contribution,” Leithead said.
Some of MAVEN’s so-called education efforts have already raised eyebrows. For example, PolitiFact rated a statement made by MAVEN, where it claimed metro Atlantans spend “over an hour every day” or “five hours a week” commuting, for a total of “260 hours a year” as only half true.
In addition to Leithead, Cumberland CID board members John Shern, retired from Home Depot; Connie Engel, a partner with Childress Klein Properties; Barry Teague with Walton Communities; Mason Zimmerman, senior vice president of Pope and Land Enterprises, Inc.; and Trey Parrish, senior vice president with B.F. Saul Property Company, voted Thursday to give the $70,000 to MAVEN.
Board member Peter Kasian, senior director with Tishman Speyer, was absent.
Zimmerman, who also chairs the Town Center CID, said that board would consider giving MAVEN more money at its next meeting as well. The Town Center CID has already given MAVEN $200,000.
“Those of us who’ve lived here in Cobb County have had the experience of waking up on the morning after a transportation vote with a 79-vote victory, and we’ve also had the experience of waking up with a 130-vote loss,” Leithead said. “I really don’t want to wake up on August 1 and have missed it by 10 votes.”
While MAVEN, which is headed by developer Bob Voyles, CEO of Seven Oaks Company, is serving as the “education” arm of the transportation tax campaign, another group headed by David Stockert of Post Properties is running the “advocacy” arm of the campaign called Commuters for Transportation Mobility, which aims to raise $6.8 million of which $5 million has already been raised, Leithead said.
“All of those funds are coming from the business community,” Leithead said.
Leithead said there are legal restrictions when it comes to awarding tax money to certain groups.
“Advocates can be people spending their own money. In other words, the entire business community can advocate,” Leithead said. “We’re (the CID) spending tax dollars. That’s why we’re not advocating. We’re educating. That’s the difference.”
Ehrhart said Leithead is fooling no one.
“That’s disingenuous and beneath them. It’s word games,” Ehrhart said. “I love what (Samuel) Alito said: ‘We’re not stupid’ is the new catch phrase in the Obamacare hearing. To the CIDs: ‘We’re not stupid.’ These aren’t educational ads, they’re political ads.”
Ehrhart said it would take an act of the state legislature to stop the CIDs from what they are doing.
“That’s something that will have to be looked into next year,” Ehrhart said. “I thought they got the message on that. That’s a shame. It’s certainly using tax money to advocate for (an election). I’m hoping they’re not successful in buying it.”
Ehrhart said CIDs can have a positive role in society, but funneling their tax dollars to promote a referendum is not one of them.
“This is not a part of their role,” he said. “Advocacy with tax money is wrong on so many levels, and I couldn’t disagree with them more on this.”