Soda Industry Spending Big to Defeat Richmond Beverage Tax

Rosa Lara talks with Alejandra Nava at La Raza market. Lara is a paid organizer for the community coalition against beverage taxes.

Rosa Lara talks with Alejandra Nava at La Raza market in Richmond. Lara is a paid organizer for the community coalition against beverage taxes.

Earlier this week, KQED’s Mina Kim looked at the ongoing soda tax campaign in Richmond. In November, voters there will decide whether to impose a penny-an-ounce fee on sweetened drinks. Today, William Harless at California Watch drilled down into newly-released campaign finance disclosures and learned that — not surprisingly — tax opponents are outspending tax supporters.

What might be more surprising is that the margin is 10 to 1. Harless reports that the American Beverage Association, based in Washington and representing Coca Cola, PepsiCo et. al. has spent $150,000 since June. (Note that the City Council voted to put the tax on the ballot on May 15.)

Harless earlier reported that the beverage association is funding the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes. To date, that organization has spent an additional $200,000, again according to campaign finance records.

While dramatically outspent, more organizations are also joining the campaign to support the tax. From California Watch:

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit group with offices in Oakland, Davis and Los Angeles, has spent about $21,600 on polling and focus groups.

Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who is leading the campaign for the sweetened-beverage tax, said he believes soda drinkers will start to turn to tap water, saving money and drinking something healthier. He said the American Beverage Association is worried that Richmond will set a trend.

“I think they’re quite aware that if these dominoes begin to fall, a lot more will,” he said, referring to the two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, in Los Angeles County, that are considering penny-per-ounce sweetened-beverage taxes, which would be the first of their kind in the United States.

Ritterman and a handful of Bay Area residents have raised about $10,400 for their own campaign, dubbed Richmond Fit for Life, and have sent out brochures and mailers advocating for the tax, outlining obesity statistics and describing how it and a companion health measure are phrased on the November ballot.

Ritterman believes the tax could raise $3 million annually. A non-binding resolution passed by City Council the same night it voted to put the tax on the ballot recommends that the money be spent on obesity prevention programs. Opponents say they think the money would end up in the general fund.