If the fight over fluoridation in Philomath comes down to money, it likely won’t be much of a contest: As of late last week, the pro-fluoride forces appeared to be winning the fundraising battle by a wide margin.

Citizens for Healthy Teeth, the political action committee behind the ballot measure to restore fluoride to the municipal water system, had brought in $3,739.90 in cash and in-kind donations, according to records on file with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

In addition, the pro-fluoride PAC’s main financial backer said he plans to kick in several thousand dollars more between now and March 13, when balloting ends.

By contrast, Fluoride Free Philomath, the committee formed to campaign against Measure 02-76, had collected just $915, all of it in the form of cash or loans.

What’s more, the anti-fluoride PAC’s chairman said he didn’t expect that number to rise significantly between now and election day.

Despite trailing in the money race, however, Fluoride Free Philomath has had a much higher public profile in the campaign so far.

The committee has gone door to door in Philomath to distribute two brochures laying out its objections to fluoridation. The second one came with a 28-minute DVD from the Fluoride Action Network, an international anti-fluoride group based in Canton, N.Y.

On Thursday, Fluoride Free Philomath sponsored a public forum on fluoridation at Clemens Primary School in Philomath. While Citizens for Healthy Teeth boycotted the event, anti-fluoridation speakers included a dentist affiliated with the Fluoride Action Network.

Staging that event was one of the big goals for Fluoride Free Philomath, according to director Ryan Weeks.

“All I wanted to do was see a forum happen, let the community decide,” Weeks said.

“I’ve been very disappointed we couldn’t get any of the CHT guys to participate.”

The Philomath committee’s connections with the Fluoride Action Network have helped stretch its campaign budget. Rather than buying a large quantity of DVDs to distribute to voters, it was allowed to make its own copies without paying Fluoride Action Network for the privilege.

“We couldn’t afford it,” Weeks said.

And back in November, before the political action committee was formed, Fluoride Action Network founder John Connett spoke on the dangers of fluoridation at the Philomath Library.

Citizens for Healthy Teeth, meanwhile, has been relatively quiet, with its only visible campaign materials so far being some lawn signs and pro-fluoride brochures in local medical and dental offices. It’s also invested in legal work to file an electioneering complaint against Philomath city government with the state Elections Division.

But that’s about to change. With ballots going out this weekend, the campaign is getting ready to make a public splash with an insert and a full-page ad in the Gazette-Times, according to the committee’s largest donor, James Summerton.

The founder of a Philomath biotech company called Gene Tools, Summerton is a fervent believer in fluoridation who is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s already contributed $2,500 to Citizens for Healthy Teeth and says he’s prepared to kick in another $3,600 for campaign advertising.

“From my standpoint, just to keep Philomath a pleasant place to live, that’s a relatively small investment,” Summerton said.

After Summerton, the largest individual donor to the anti-fluoride campaign to date has been Dr. Shawn Foley, a physician with the Corvallis Clinic’s Philomath branch, who gave $500. The Corvallis Clinic itself also contributed $500.

Drs. David Cutsforth and David Grube, who founded the Philomath practice in 1977 and led the campaign to start fluoridating Philomath’s water supply in the early 1980s, are the prime movers behind Citizens for Healthy Teeth.

The group plans to round out its pre-election push by calling voters, knocking on doors and distributing fliers through local businesses, said Cutsforth, who added that the campaign has been a novel experience for him.

“I’m in this for the public health issue, not the political issue,” he said. “It’s been a real interesting process to be involved in.”

The biggest individual contributor to Fluoride Free Philomath has been Philomath City Councilor Matthew Bierek, who gave $250. The council voted unanimously in May to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water.

Another $250 came from Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, a group organized to fight mandatory fluoridation measures in the Legislature.

Executive Director Kim Kaminski said the Portland-based nonprofit wanted to support the Philomath City Council’s decision to stop fluoridating.

“Political campaigns cost money, and the other side has a lot more money than we do,” she said. “That’s why we decided to contribute.”

Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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