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This was originally published in City Coucilor Jake Auchincloss’ email newsletter

Two local corporations have spent $500K+ to campaign and lobby for retail pot. Sanctioned by Citizens United, they spent $328K in campaign contributions to defeat last year’s limit-or-ban referendum. Garden Remedies will begin selling in Newtonville by end of April. Cypress Tree Management has filed for a permit in Upper Falls.

Issue-oriented political action committees (PACs), funded by individuals, are standard in Newton. Corporate PACs are new. The difference is in the dollars.Garden Remedies and Cypress Tree spent:

~10X more than their opponents, the Opt Out committee (2018)
~10X more than the committee against the charter (2017)
~5X more than the committee for the charter (2017)
~30X more than the committee in favor of the last override (2012)

Where did the money go?

·  Paid door-knocking & phone calls

·  Direct mail

·  Facebook ads

·  Consulting fees to Five Corners Strategies. The public-relations firm also handles real estate, gambling and shale-gas drilling

The scale of spending was not disclosed until after the 2018 election due to a loophole. Political consultants tell vendors to post-date invoices for after the pre-election reporting deadline. Also undisclosed are the companies’ fees for land-use attorneys, who petition and lobby the city council. Based on conservative hourly-rate estimates, those fees bring total spending well above $500K.

At least six more companies could sell in Newton. One has already filed.

My perspective: (Disclosure: I supported Opt Out.) The 2018 referendum was poor form for democracy in Newton. The city council submitted a confusing and structurally biased ballot question. Then, two corporations spent unprecedented and undisclosed sums to sway the vote.

The 2016 election indicated that a majority of voters in Newton supported recreational use. The 2018 ballot sophistry and corporate electioneering were probably not necessary. But now unhealthy precedents have been set. The affair is a case study in how sorely the city misses rigorous local reporting.

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