San Antonio – With a wave of ubiquitous attack ads, the union representing San Antonio Police officers is spending big chunks of its members’ money to fight a controversial ballot initiative.
Called the “San Antonio Justice Charter” by supporters, Proposition A on San Antonio’s May 6 ballot aims to expand the city’s existing cite-and-release program, decriminalize marijuana and abortion, reinforce existing bans on choke holds and no-knock warrants, and create a new “justice director” position.
There is debate over how much of the proposition is actually enforceable, but its potential has made it the most talked-about race on the ballot.
The San Antonio Police Officers Association is the initiative’s primary opponent and formed a specific-purpose political committee, Protect SA PAC, to fight it. Newly released campaign finance reports show Protect SA has raised and spent more than $1.8 million through April 26 -- almost all of it contributed by SAPOA.
That’s nearly as much as the combined $1.9 million spent by every other candidate or specific-purpose PAC since July, according to online campaign records obtained by KSAT Tuesday morning.
Local business community members have rallied around a second specific-purpose PAC to oppose Prop A, San Antonio Safe, which has raised $154,000 and spent $141,000.
San Antonio Safe’s biggest contributors were the IBC Bank PAC and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce at $30,000 each. Pipeline operator Nustar was close behind with a $25,000 contribution.
Between the police union and business community, Prop A’s opponents are outspending its supporters by a nearly 9-to-1 margin.
The lion’s share of Protect SA’s $1.6 million was spent on a major San Antonio advertising firm, the PM Group. Online Federal Communications Commission records show the PM Group has bought ad time for the PAC with nearly every TV station in San Antonio.
Protect SA’s ubiquitous advertisements have zeroed in on Prop A’s promised expansion of the city’s cite-and-release policy, which it warns would lead to increased crime.
The leader of the Prop A supporters, Act 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas, disagrees, but she has seen the ads’ effect.
“There’s still a lot of folks opposing this, and everything that they’re saying are exactly the talking points that are in these ads that have been playing. And it makes -- it went up in frequency very recently, and I think that’s probably the same time that these ads really started hitting,” Tomas said.
Since February, SAPOA’s primary PAC funneled $30,740 to Protect SA and less than $15,000 came in through a handful of other donations. Most of the funds - $1.77 million - came directly from SAPOA.
SAPOA President Danny Diaz said Tuesday that the money was not from union dues, but voluntary contributions from its 2,370 officer members specifically for the Prop A battle.
“If officers are putting their own money into it, people should see that there is a problem with this proposition,” Diaz told KSAT in a phone interview.
While the specific-purpose PAC for Prop A’s supporters, the SA Justice Charter PAC, also spent a significant amount -- $221,000 so far -- it pales compared to the opposition.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating and can be a bit disheartening seeing -- knowing that like we don’t have that type of money,” Tomas said.
The pro-Prop A PAC has reported $362,000 in monetary donations so far from progressive groups like the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Freedom Network, and Tomas’s group, Act 4 SA.
The campaign has received another $79,000 in in-kind donations, mostly from Act 4 SA and Ground Game Texas, which has pushed similar marijuana decriminalization efforts across the state.
Tomas said the campaign is doing some advertising, too, and is spending “a lot of money” on field work. She expects the campaign will have knocked on 40,000 doors by election day.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story listed the $1.77 million contributed by SAPOA as “union funds.” After speaking with the union president Tuesday, the story has been updated to specify those are donations from members and not union dues.