Political action campaigns have spent nearly $2 million to sway voters against Proposition A, an omnibus police reform measure, on the ballot in San Antonio’s May 6 election.

That’s more than 10 times what the group behind the proposed changes spent, according to local campaign finance reports that were due Monday.

Proposition A asks voters if the city should change its charter to decriminalize marijuana and abortion, further restrict police officers’ use of no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for some low-level, nonviolent crimes and establish a justice director position within the city’s administration.  

Progressive group ACT 4 SA reported spending $146,191 between April 12 and April 26, with no cash remaining on hand, to pass the measure.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio police union’s Protect SA PAC, one of three raising money to defeat Prop A, spent $935,472 and reported $1,294 remaining. That’s on top of the $878,754 the union spent during the last reporting period. Most of that money came from union membership and has been spent on campaign management, newspaper, direct mail and broadcast media buys through the PM Group, a local marketing and advertising company.

San Antonio SAFE PAC, allied with chambers of commerce and business leaders, reported spending $141,359, with $13,058 left on hand.

While the union has focused on television ads, SAFE is “focused more on direct mail and digital ads and I think those two approaches are certainly complementing each other … albeit not necessarily intentionally,” Kelton Morgan, the PAC’s political consultant.

The campaign finance report for the third PAC, Better SA, spent $10,012 between March 9 and April 26 and maintained $14,987, according to its filing with the Texas Ethics Commission. While the PAC has produced material that is critical of issues presented in Prop A, it did not directly call for voters to vote against the measure. The group reported that it spent money on candidates Marina Alderete Gavito, who is running for the District 7 seat, and Marc Whyte, who is running in District 10.

Texas Organizing Project (TOP), the statewide progressive group, has given directly to ACT 4 SA’s PAC and independently lobbied for the passage of Prop A. Its most recent report with the Texas Ethics Commission shows it spent $205,570 between March 28 and April 26 on efforts to pass Prop A and reelect Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Teri Castillo (D5).

TOP’s PAC spent about $84,000 promoting Prop A independent of ACT 4 SA’s PAC, co-executive director Michelle Tremillo said.

“The fact that the police association has spent millions of dollars to sow fear and spread misinformation tells us they care far more about asserting their power than advancing public safety in San Antonio,” Tremillo told the San Antonio Report.

While local elections can often be predicted with campaign finance reports, money does not always tell the whole story.

“We’ve been doing more of the grassroots tactics,” ACT 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas said, noting that volunteers and paid canvassers have knocked on more than 34,000 doors.

Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, speaks during a protest against former SAPD officer James Brennand outside of the Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday. Brennand was fired after shooting 17-year-old Erik Cantu.
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, speaks during a protest after SAPD officer James Brennand shot 17-year-old Erik Cantu outside of a McDonald’s in 2022. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Police Officers Association’s anti-Prop A message, which is focused on the expansion of cite-and-release — specifically that police would not have discretion as they do now about choosing to arrest or issue a citation for nonviolent misdemeanors — may be reaching a broader audience on television, Tomas said, but ACT 4 SA is targeting voters.

Early voting has been exceptionally high on the city’s North Side, with more than 61% of votes in the first week (April 24-29) coming from council districts 7, 8, 9 and 10, according to San Antonio political strategist Bert Santibañez, who is working for several council candidates this year.

More than a third of the city’s total votes cast were in District 9, where Councilman John Courage is seeking a fourth term, and in District 10, where there’s an open race to replace Councilman Clayton Perry.

In a nod to the police union’s spending, Courage’s campaign said many District 9 voters were showing up to the polls eager to cast their vote against Prop A, despite knowing little about the council race.

Courage’s volunteers also talked to Bexar County voters who don’t live in San Antonio but showed up to vote against Prop A, and were disappointed to find it wasn’t on their ballot.

“We can’t speculate [about] what is occurring at District 9 polling sites, however, we can assume that traditional media efforts across broadcast, radio, and print have reached a mass audience beyond city limits,” SAPOA President Danny Diaz said in a statement. Diaz noted all digital and grassroots efforts have been targeted only at San Antonio residents.

Government and politics reporter Andrea Drusch contributed to this story.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org