The Columbus, Ohio Zoo never expected such a formidable opponent.
Yet a proposal for a modest tax increase to fund the zoo’s programs has attracted the attention of Americans for Prosperity, a national group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, residents received AFP mailers that warned of a “money grab” and a 105 percent levy on property taxes that hurts the elderly and disabled.
What the mailers do not explain is that the tax proposal only affects a portion of property taxes, which the zoo relies on for one-third of its revenue. The original property tax levy is expiring, and the replacement is 67 percent higher. Maybe that sounds high, but it means a difference of $23 for a house valued at $100,000.
“We are engaged in local issues, in state issues, on federal issues,” Ohio AFP state director Eli Miller warned. “There is no issue we won’t get involved in if you’re going to raise taxes.”
Here is the mailer:
AFP has not disclosed how much money it spent, but it certainly has more funds at its disposal than a taxpayer-funded zoo. It spent more than $100 million on federal races in 2012, and has already spent millions of dollars on the midterms. The broader Koch network raised $400 million in the last election.
Outside interests weighing heavily in federal races may be the new normal, but their involvement in normally sleepy local and judicial races is becoming more common, too. The New York Times reported last fall that AFP has fought property tax battles in small towns across Kansas, Ohio, and Texas, exactly where outside money can easily skew election results. Likewise, Koch Industries has poured money into the normally quiet North Carolina Supreme Court primary. In Tennessee, the Senate passed a bill to ban mass transit projects in the region, after the AFP chapter recommended the idea. Since AFP calls this advocacy non-partisan and issue-based, they generally do not disclose how much it spends.
The zoo conceded defeat after nearly 70 percent of votes were against the levy.