America loves underdogs. Just look at the headlines Tim Tebow is garnering these days and it’s easy to see why. The Denver Broncos quarterback represents the very ethos this country was founded upon: with enough hard work, even the little guy can achieve very big things.
It’s this idea that inspired the Pepsi Refresh Project, an initiative developed by PepsiCo to award over $20 million in grant money to grassroots organizations through an online voting competition. And though the challenge was designed for nonpartisan groups, it has been infiltrated by a professional and well-funded political Goliath that has cast a shadow over the fairness and spirit of the contest.
The group is called the Progressive Slate, a coalition of nonprofits that was formed with the sole purpose of winning Pepsi funds. So far this year, the Slate has racked up more than $2 million in Pepsi grants to advance their liberal agenda. And for an organization that claims to not engage in political advocacy, they are bedfellows with many left-leaning activists and groups. In fact, over a half-dozen Slate-sponsored nonprofits that have won Pepsi grant money have also received funding from none other than George Soros.
So how is it that groups receiving checks from the man who broke the Bank of England have been able to cash in on Pepsi’s charity despite rules against political advocacy?
That is the very question being asked by Gail Pubols and Crys Worley, two contestants who are finalists in the December round of the Pepsi Refresh Project.
Both women have joined forces as two grassroots underdogs that are connected though a common bond: they are both mothers to autistic children.
Over the summer, PJTV spent a day with Gail and her family in their Henderson, Nevada home to see how they are using innovative technology to help their son communicate. Inspired by her son’s improvement, Gail and her husband started the Gage Rufus Foundation with the mission of getting iPads into every autistic classroom in their community. For Pubols, the Pepsi Refresh Project would be a way to fulfill her dream of giving voice to those who need it most.
“We are so excited to be a part of this grant contest and so thrilled that we are in the top 20 with so many worthy groups competing,” stated Pubols. “We are just one mom and one dad, but we believe in what we are doing because we have seen our own child speak and he improves and inspires us every day.”
Worley, who is mom to 8-year old Sasha, started A.Skate, a nonprofit foundation that teaches children with autism to socialize through skateboarding activities. She runs clinics throughout the country for autistic kids and funds many of the activities out of pocket. She is hoping funds from Pepsi will help open the nation’s first disability friendly skate park in her community of Birmingham, Alabama.
“The Pepsi Refresh Everything contest was designed to help hard working individuals and organizations promoting on a grassroots level to bring their communities together in supporting an idea that will better the lives of people in their community,” said Worley.
“When I was notified that our idea was up against a coalition as strong as the Progressive Slate, I was lost for words.”
The Slate draws on its community organizing experience and expertise to dominate Pepsi’s online voting process. Daily email blasts go out to thousands of Slate backers and affiliated groups that direct supporters to vote for projects that advance the progressive cause.
“We have been waiting three years to have this opportunity to kick off the construction of a special needs skate park…only to find out that a sweatshop of voters are possibly at a computer all day plugging in votes over and over to win half a million dollars,” said Worley. “My heart is broken because it could take another three years to kick off our project if this funding isn’t won.”
And while the Slate acknowledges on their website that they help coordinate voting for participating groups, they deny that any of their activity involves political advocacy.
But a look at recent IRS reports paints a different picture, which we’ll explore right after the page break.