Strong Start Tucson

James Hill, 11, pulls his sister, Cassandra, 4, while helping deliver petitions on behalf of Proposition 204, which would raise the city sales tax by a half-cent for early-education programs.

Proposition 204, the initiative aimed at increasing the city sales tax by a half-penny to fund scholarships for preschool students, is the most expensive campaign in town.

Strong Start Tucson, the campaign supporting the initiative, has raised far more than any other city issue or candidate this year, showing the fight over what has been dubbed Prop. 204 will be hotly, and expensively, contested.

The campaign supporting the initiative has raised more than $300,000 so far and spent almost $200,000 in its quest to provide Tucson’s 3- and 4-year-olds with high-quality preschool.

Corporations, nonprofits and labor groups have pitched in roughly half of the campaign’s funds so far, with the biggest donations coming from groups like Child and Family Resources, which has kicked in $78,000, not including the $21,000 that came from the nonprofit’s president and CEO, Eric Schindler and his wife.

Many of the companies and nonprofits supporting the proposition would stand to possibly benefit if Strong Start Tucson were approved, including a host of child-care facilities that have donated to the cause so far. Much of the campaign’s funding has also come from small contributions from individuals.

The campaign reported raising $317,000 on its most recent campaign finance reports, but had overstated its total income due to an accounting error, according to campaign treasurer James Ratner.

Much of Strong Start Tucson’s funding has gone toward campaign consultants and campaign mailers, but the campaign has also spent heavily on digital media through Univision Communications.

Meanwhile, the opposition campaign, No On Prop. 204, funded mostly by Tucson auto dealer Jim Click, has raised more than $113,000, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports filed with the city.

Click and affiliated groups, such as the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group and Phoenix-based Tucson New Car Dealers Association, have thrown more than $40,000 into the campaign to defeat Prop. 204. The Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Hotel Corporation of Downtown Tucson have contributed another $25,000 each.

And while the campaign against the initiative has only raised a third of what Strong Start Tucson has, it has done it in quick time. The No On Prop. 204 campaign filed to form an official committee only at the end of September, while Strong Start Tucson has been collecting contributions since November 2016.

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Unlike the campaign supporting Prop. 204, the anti-Prop. 204 campaign has raised money only from big ticket donors, according the campaign finance reports.

Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political action group funded by Charles and David Koch, also joined the fray in Tucson’s Prop 204, recently urging “Tucsonians” to sign a petition opposing the measure.

Tom Jenney, the senior legislative adviser for the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, did not return calls for comment.

Much of the No On Prop. 204 campaign’s funding has been spent on mailers arguing that there’s a lack of accountability in the way the initiative, if approved, would spend money.

Contact Hank Stephenson at hstephenson@tucson.com or 573-4279. On Twitter: @hankdeanlight