Beverage companies donate $800K to fight soda tax

The PAC against a soda tax in Berkeley has poured $800,000 into the No on Measure D campaign. Will Berkeley be first? Photo: Mike Mozart

The PAC against a soda tax in Berkeley has poured $800,000 into the No on Measure D campaign. Will Berkeley be first? Photo: Mike Mozart

The political arm of the American Beverage Association donated $500,000 on Sept. 16 to fight a proposed tax on sugary beverages in Berkeley, bringing to $800,000 the amount of money it has poured into the No on Measure D campaign.

The contribution, which appears to be the single largest in Berkeley history, will be used to print materials, mail campaign flyers, send campaign workers door-to-door, and pay for advertisements in newspapers and on websites. (Full disclosure: Berkeleyside has a number of No on D ads on its site, as well as a Yes on D ad.)

The amount of money is needed because the entire Berkeley City Council is supporting the soda tax, known as Measure D, and extraordinary measures are needed to fight their moral authority, said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign.

“We are up against a government-funded campaign effort,” he said “The Berkeley City Council is using all of their official means to deliver their messages the best they can.”

Salazar later said he misspoke when he used the term “government-funded.” While the city of Berkeley is not paying for the Yes on Measure D campaign, council members are talking about their support, he said. In addition, the council put a biased description of the measure on the ballot. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in September that certain phrases, like “high-calorie, sugary drinks” had to be removed from the ballot description because they were biased. State law requires ballot materials to be impartial.

The supporters of Measure D said they were not surprised that the American Beverage Association California PAC had poured so much money into the campaign. The group spent $4 million to defeat similar soda tax measures in Richmond and El Monte.

“The $500,000 contribution is both unprecedented – it’s the single largest contribution in the history of Berkeley from everything I could determine – and it’s just outrageous,” said Josh Daniels, the co-chair of the Healthy Child Initiative, or Berkeley vs. Big Soda, the Yes on Measure D campaign. He is also running for reelection to the Berkeley school board. “They are trying, through a tsunami or a flood of money, to win this campaign as opposed to talking about the issues.”

The group plans to hold a press conference about the campaign contribution Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m. at its campaign headquarters at 2225 Shattuck Ave.

The Sept. 16 filing was the first official notice that the American Beverage Council California PAC had put money into the No on D campaign. The committee running the campaign reported it had zero donations at the July 31 campaign filing deadline. People knew that the PAC had donated $300,000 because the name and amount of a measure’s largest contributor has to be printed on mailed material. After Aug. 6, any contribution over $1,000 has to be reported within 24 hours.

Salazar confirmed that the PAC had made both the $300,000 and $500,000 contribution. He declined to say how much the PAC had donated to a similar campaign in San Francisco since that information does not have to be released until Oct. 6.

Berkeley vs. Big Soda has raised about $75,000, said Daniels. The Ecology Center, which gave $11,368 in in-kind donations the last few weeks, appears to be the biggest donor. The UC Berkeley School of Public Health Advocacy Initiative also donated $9,838 recently, according to campaign filings.

The sugar-sweetened beverage tax, Measure D, would levy a 1 cent-per-fluid-ounce general tax on distributors of soft drinks, energy and sports drinks, and sweetened teas, and the bulk syrup used to sweeten them. If successful, Berkeley could be the first city in the nation to pass such a tax, though San Francisco has also taken up the fight.

Supporters for the tax include a long list of community organizations, city and school district officials and other individuals. The campaign has called itself “Berkeley vs. Big Soda,” the Healthy Child Initiative and, now, Yes on Measure D.

The opposition campaign, No on D — which previously was called No Berkeley Beverage Tax — has described itself as “a coalition of citizens, local businesses, and community organizations” but has published no list of supporters.

Salazar said Measure D was a “full of flaws, loopholes, and exemptions.” One major issue is that the funds raised will go into Berkeley’s general fund, where they can be used for any purpose. (The city council has indicated the money would be used for health programs)

Supporters of Measure D said the tax was necessary to help fight an epidemic of obesity and diabetes caused, in part, by the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

San Francisco voters will consider a similar measure in November, although the funds raised from that effort would go into an earmarked fund. That means the measure would have to pass with a two-thirds vote. Berkeley’s measure only needs to pass with a majority vote on Nov. 4.

Update: This article has been corrected to say the Ecology Center made $11,368 in in-kind, not cash, donations.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the soda tax, and more 2014 Election coverage.

Judge changes Berkeley soda tax ballot measure (09.04.14)
Berkeley councilman faces PR man in ‘soda tax’ debate (07.30.14)
Berkeley puts sugar tax on November ballot (07.02.14)
Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, city parks measures (05.21.14)
Community survey shows difficulties for ballot measures (05.06.14)
Sugar tax hits the sweet spot for Berkeley residents (03.14.14)
Will Berkeley be first in nation to impose soda tax? (02.12.14)

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  • Jesse Townley

    I liked the following quote. It’s not about obesity, it’s about:

    “It’s not how much someone weighs that is the problem – it’s the chronic illnesses linked to soft drink consumption, like diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease, that are the problem.

    It is certainly possible to be a person of size and yet be in good health and physically fit. But once we develop diabetes, or kidney disease, we can’t really claim to be healthy.”

    Also, I’ve hosted a really engaging, mostly respectful discussion about this measure amongst my friends on-line. If you really *must* know, the most disparaging personal comments came from a No-On-D libertarian friend of mine, not from any of the Yes-On-D folks. That doesn’t prove anything except that there’s anecdotal evidence that is the opposite of what happened here when 1 Yes-On-D supporter was mean to 1 No-On-D supporter. Neither anecdote provides enough data to make the sweeping assumptions that I’ve been reading in these comments.

  • guest

    Wrong Salazar. When you give up soda, the replacement calories include things like milk, which are much less likely to give you diabetes. It aint all about weight.

  • SSF

    Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the SF measure to extrapolate, and the source for that estimate isn’t cited, so I don’t know how they came up with it. I presume that Berkeley would be much lower per capita, given that the tax rate is half, the visitor consumption is probably much lower in Berkeley, and SF businesses probably buy their drinks from distributors located within SF. But, I couldn’t guess how much lower, and I don’t know if that $31 million figure for SF is reasonable or not.

  • bob

    Well maybe that’s next on the agenda. For now, me and the rest of Berkeley are planning to send the ABA packing despite all the money they plan on dumping into this measure.

  • guest

    Please don’t waste the BPD’s time with this.

  • Guest

    Insisting that any of the 40,000 Berkeley residents who don’t support Measure D are paid shills.

    If this is how the ABA reads polling data, then I don’t think Measure D supporters have much to worry about.


  • Guest

    This is the least insightful analysis of Berkeley voters I think I have ever seen. You have no idea at all what you’re talking about.

    What do you base your statement on?

    I’m basing my statement about the overlap between Measure D supporters, Kriss Worthington supporters, and Measure T opponents on the lawn signs being sported in front of the homes within a 6-block radius of my house.

    The overlap between overlap between Measure D supporters, Kriss Worthington supporters, and Measure T opponents hovers around 75-85%.

  • guest

    >Well maybe that’s next on the agenda.

    It’s not.

  • guest

    More of the same tired comments from Yes on D supporters insisting that anyone in Berkeley who doesn’t agree with them is a paid shill?


  • Guest

    Berkeley is the most politically intolerant city I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived in a few cities in the central valley over the years.

  • Guest

    hovers around 75-85%.

    This looks like the results of a very rigorous analysis and not simply a random number that you pulled out of your butt.

  • DisGuested

    Because nothing helps a junkie like a rip-roaring shot of scag.

  • FudFighter

    Got some more junk in the mail from the No On D campaign just now.

    Congratulations, you got a name of a person on it — I wonder if they really will vote no. Thats 1. Anyhow, due to its rectangular shape, it will not make as good a dust pan as the first one did.

    At least it doens’t mention that 30 calorie sweetened coconut water, which as far as I know, still doesn’t exist.

  • No on dishonesty. No on D.

    • Denying science.
    • Continuing to insist that anyone who disagrees with you is a paid shill.

    These are the cornerstones of the Yes on D campaign.

  • guest

    A fine example of the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Sign destruction.

    Apparently YES on D folks are now ripping down NO on D signs.

    While visiting a store on University yesterday I made an offhand comment to the person working the register that there sure were a lot of No on D signs along University, to which they replied that while they were walking to work that day they had seen someone walking along University ripping up the No on D signs.

    So far I know of no similar reports of Yes on D signs being destroyed.

  • Guest

    The number is based on the houses with lawn signs within an 8 block radius of where I live.

    Speaking to an employee at a store on University they mentioned seeing someone destroying NO on D signs on Thursday morning.

    No surprise, since it is exactly what I expected. Because of the overlap between Measure D supporters, Kriss Worthington supporters, and Measure T opponents I fully expect Measure D supporters
    to continue destroying campaign signs and become increasingly flagrant in their actions.

  • guest

    Thank you for supporting my previous prediction.

    Because of the overlap between Measure D supporters, Kriss Worthington
    supporters, and Measure T opponents I fully expect Measure D supporters
    to engage in just as much destruction and vandalism in this election.

  • guest

    Were those signs all posted illegally on utility poles?

  • guest

    No one is going to crucify you. But if you claim that charging more for something won’t make people buy less of it, everyone is going to see that you don’t know about the law of supply and demand.

  • thatBerkeleydude

    So we should punish the consumer for their decision to drink soda? The soda companies will not be harmed that way, I can assure you of that much. People need to be better educated about the effects of soda on their health, that would be an actual solution.

  • guest

    Hey, maybe it is the No campaign correcting their mistakes!

    Also, those signs were really ugly, sloppily applied, with yucky blue tape. They were wrapped around pole so you couldn’t read them, and there were / are tons of them.

  • guest

    and it is illegal to put them on utility poles in the first place.

    The No on D campaign is ignorant enough that they put them up in downtown and on Telegraph Ave, where the Ambassadors take down all signs that are posted on utility poles.

    But they also posted them on streets such as University that don’t have Ambassadors to clean up their illegal mess.

  • whoRUkidding

    Actually it appears you haven’t read the tax measure your pushing.

    The penny-an-ounce tax would be
    levied on soda distributors, not on consumers at the cash register. The
    theory is that store owners who buy drinks from distributors would pass
    the extra cost directly to consumers, but they wouldn’t have to. They
    could just treat it as another cost of doing business and raise prices
    on everything in the store.

  • williamthecrank

    A paid No on D canvasser at Ashby BART this morning told me that the tax would apply to soy and almond milk. When I told her that Measure D considered those to be milk products, she said, “Yes, Measure D would even tax milk products.”

    Why is the beverage industry paying people to lie to Berkeley voters?

  • guest

    The No on D party line changes depending on their mood. Sometimes they say the tax is bad because it would raise prices for consumers, and sometimes they say it is bad because it is a tax on distributors and wouldn’t raise prices for consumers. In the real world, most of the tax will be passed on. It is legal for them not to pass it on, but it is not economically realistic.

  • guest

    If you think that we are “punishing” people by improving their health, that is your privilege. You must also think we shouldn’t tax cigarettes or alcohol.

  • thatBerkeleydude

    I think we should cigarettes and alcohol like we tax other commodities, with sales tax. People should have the right to choose what they put into their bodies, it’s a matter of responsibility, really. I don’t drink soda very often, but if want to, I shouldn’t need to pay more because others aren’t as responsible. Also, diet soda is exempt, which contains aspertame, a compound known to be physically addictive and is shown in some studies to be more unhealthy even than high fructose corn syrup.

  • Cammy

    First California tries to label GMOs and now a soda tax! All I can say is GOOD for you Berkeley. Salazar said Measure D was a “full of flaws, loopholes, and exemptions.”Funny that was the same argument used over and over to defeat prop 37, the CA GMO labeling law. And sadly, it worked….

  • jamesbutler75

    It is really a “democracy” when the battle is waged between a beverage lobby on one side and citizens on the other?? Very sad. Vote Yes on D.

  • jamesbutler75

    Please. It is fact: Big Soda has spent $800,000 to protect its financial interest. All the “Yes” people are interested in is public health.

  • Lookout

    The No on D campaign headquarters was spotted at 2510 Channing way in Berkeley. Upstairs in an empty office building. Please protest at this location. Looks like they have a pretty sophisticated plan to the attempt to influence the voters. Check it out for yourself.