Beverage Industry Spends Big to Beat Berkeley Soda Tax
The No on Measure D campaign has paid to plaster the Ashby BART station with signs. (Marian Mabel/Berkeleyside)
Anyone who walked into the Ashby BART station Wednesday night would have been barraged by “No on Measure D” ads. They were plastered on the walls across from the trains, pinned to spaces near the ticket machine, and laid out on the floor of the station.
It’s known as saturation advertising and the No on Measure D campaign is using it across Berkeley to get its message across. There are ads in bus shelters. There are ads on Berkeleyside. There are ads in the Daily Californian and on SFGate. There are campaign signs pinned to posts and stuck in medians around town.
Get used to it. Newly filed finance reports show that the No on Measure D campaign has spent $1.675 million so far trying to defeat a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, which is about $275,000 more than was previously disclosed.
The American Beverage Association California PAC, which is funding the campaign, donated $1.4 million but has actually spent more. The campaign is also carrying $947,433 in accrued expenses. The bulk of the money is going to campaign literature, advertising, a website and campaign, and public relations consultants.
That comes to $21.43 for each of Berkeley’s 78,144 registered voters. In comparison, the beverage industry is spending $15.50 per registered voter in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. (The stakes for soda manufacturers are higher in Berkeley, where the measure only needs a simple "50 percent plus one" majority to pass; in San Francisco, a two-thirds majority vote is needed.)
The amount of money spent dwarfs previous Berkeley political campaigns, and distorts the electoral process, according to Daniel Newman, the president and co-founder of MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization in Berkeley that tracks money in politics.
“When one side has more than 10 times as many resources as another, it starts to make a mockery of what our democracy is supposed to be like,” Newman said. “If one side has 10 times more money to send mailers, and pay people to have conversations with voters, it creates distorted conditions for voters to effectively decide on what laws they want.”
Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No on D campaign, would not directly answer whether the amount of money the beverage industry is spending in Berkeley would turn off voters. He pointed out that the Yes on D campaign is also using seasoned campaign consultants and that all the city officials running for re-election are using their bully pulpit to push the tax. The beverage industry must overcome that, he said. In addition, the Berkeley City Council spent $60,000 to conduct a poll about the proposed 1-cent-tax-per-ounce measure, he said.
“They’ve got government sponsorship,” Salazar said. “We are going to be informing voters about the flaws and impacts of this misguided venture.”
(The City Council did spend $60,000 on two polls, but the questions that were posed covered a range of issues, not just the soda tax.)
Only a small portion of the $1.675 million declared recently was actually spent in Berkeley, according to campaign finance documents reviewed by Berkeleyside.
Dustan Batton, who works for Rodriguez Strategies, the Los Angeles-based consulting firm that is running the Berkeley campaign, paid $622 to stay at the Durant Hotel, according to campaign filings. The campaign has paid Wong Property Management $11,040 for rent and $1,020 to Parking Concepts for parking.
Two print shops were paid for printing campaign literature: Zee Zee Copy and Alliance Graphic got a combined $4,239. The campaign has paid Berkeleyside $9,393 for advertising. It has also taken out ads that cover two full pages in the Daily Californian.
Here are some of the major expenditures, according to campaign filings:
In addition to blitzing the Bay Area with ads, the No on D campaign has sent out at least seven mass mailings, defined by Berkeley election law as those going to more than 200 households.
In recent days, the No on D campaign has also been passing out a flyer that features excerpts from two anti-soda tax op-eds that were published on Berkeleyside in the Opinionator section. Berkeleyside’s logo is prominently featured at the top of the page. Many Berkeley residents have been confused by that campaign literature, and have asked Berkeleyside whether the news site has taken a position to oppose Measure D. Berkeleyside does not take editorial positions. The flyer is a production of the No on Measure D campaign. (Read more about Berkeleyside’s position on endorsements.)
The proliferation of campaign signs has also been a problem. The city of Berkeley has sent the No on Measure D campaign two letters informing it that its signs are illegally placed in Berkeley. Berkeley’s sign ordinance does not allow campaign signs on wooden utility poles, public sidewalks, median strips, fire hydrants, curbs, or any traffic control fixture.
On Oct. 2 and then again on Oct. 6, Berkeley noted that there were No on Measure D signs on at least six different roundabouts or median strips.
The willingness of the beverage industry to pour close to $2 million into the campaign to defeat the proposed soda tax should come as no surprise. The beverage industry has spent $117 million since 2009 to quash or roll back soda taxes, according to the New York Times. The beverage industry has defeated more than 30 initiatives around the United States in those years.
Nationwide, the fight has been funded by political action committees of the American Beverage Association, a trade organization made up of the world’s largest beverage companies and businesses that sell their products. They include the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper-Royal Crown Bottling Co., Canada Dry Bottling Co. of New York, the Can Manufacturers Institute, 7-Eleven Convenience Stores, and Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell).
The brands include Honest Tea, Snapple, Tropicana, Minute Maid, Aquafina, Mountain Dew, Starbucks coffee drinks, Fuze Tea, Odwalla, Glacéau Vitaminwater, Hawaiian Punch, 7-Up, Coca–Cola and many more.
Salazar said the beverage industry wants to help people reduce their sugar consumption, just not through local legislation. The soda industry has reduced the calories in many of its drinks by 10 percent in the last 10 years, and just recently pledged to reduce it an additional 20 percent, he said.
“From our perspective, it’s bad public policy,” Salazar said of local legislation. “There are ways you can promote healthy lifestyles. We don’t believe taxing people is the way to do it.”
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