Soda Industry Drowns Richmond Tax Foes in Dollars

Friday, August 10, 2012

If Richmond approves a November ballot measure and becomes the first city in the country to pass a soda tax, it won’t be because the soda industry didn’t get a chance to make its case.

Financial records show that the industry has outspent tax supporters 10-1 since June. The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, which claims to be an independent grass-roots organization, contributed $200,000 to the campaign. But an investigation by California Watch showed it to be tightly allied with, and funded by, the American Beverage Association, an industry heavyweight that represents companies like PepsiCo and Coca Cola. The association chipped in $150,000.

The penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks would raise between $2 million and $8 million a year and be used for child and adult obesity programs, school fruit and vegetable gardens, and ball fields.

It would also set a precedent the soda industry doesn’t want to see. The city of El Monte has a similar measure on the November ballot, but although 33 states have soda taxes, municipalities have not joined in yet. Philadelphia has flirted with the idea for years and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed it in June.  

No proposal has gotten very far at the federal level.  

Much of the impetus for the tax comes from health advocates, particularly those who are concerned about childhood obesity. The tax is viewed by them as a deterrent to unhealthy eating.

Opponents include people who: oppose more taxes in general; feel taxes shouldn’t be used to direct food choices; are afraid small businessmen will suffer; think the regressive tax will hurt low-income and minority families the most; and don’t think it will change people’s eating habits and combat obesity.    

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

Soda Industry Outspends Tax Supporters 10-1 in Richmond (by William Harless, California Watch)

Groups Take Sides in Richmond Soda Tax Debate (by Robert Rogers, Contra Costa Times)

Richmond Soda Tax to Fight Obesity Makes Ballot (by Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle)

Richmond Voters Will Decide on “Soda Tax” (by Lisa Aliferis, The California Report)

Beverage Lobbyist Funds ‘Community’ Campaign against Soda Tax (by William Harless, California Watch)

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