Beverage companies spend $1.675 million to defeat Berkeley soda tax

The No on Measure D campaign covered the Ashby BART station with signs - on the floor, on the walls, and next to the ticket machines. BART made the campaign takes some of the signs down on Oc. 8. Photo: Marian Mabel

The No on Measure D campaign on Oct. 8 covered the Ashby BART station with signs — on the floor, on the walls, and next to the ticket machines. BART workers accidentally took down some of the signs Wednesday night, but they will be reinstalled. Photo: Marian Mabel

Any traveler 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 SF Gate. There are campaign signs pinned to posts and stuck in medians around town.

Get used to it. Newly filed campaign disclosure 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 50% 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 reveals money’s influence on 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,” said Newman. “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 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 — a legal tactic, but one, as he put it in a previous interview, that gives “moral authority” to the campaign. 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,” said Salazar. “We are going to be informing voters about the flaws and impacts of this misguided venture.”

Council did spend $60,000 on two polls, but the questions that were posed covered a range of issues, not just the soda tax.

Dustan Batton of Rodriguez Strategies  (left) and Josh Daniels (right) argue the merits of Measure D, a proposed tax on sugary beverages, at an election event on Oct. 6. Batton is a spokesman for the No on D campaign, and Daniels is co-chair of the Yes on D campaign. Photo: Mark Coplan

Dustan Batton of Rodriguez Strategies (left) and Josh Daniels (right) argue the merits of Measure D, a proposed tax on sugary beverages, at an election event on Oct. 6. Batton is a spokesman for the No on D campaign, and Daniels is co-chair of the Yes on D campaign. Photo: Mark Coplan

Only a small portion of the $1.675 million declared recently was 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:

  • TV ads: $327,453, with $96,236 going to KGO and KPIX
  • Radio spots: $17,848
  • BART advertising: $46,750, according to Alicia Trost, BART’s communication manager
  • Campaign literature: $603,470
  • U.S. Postal Service: $62,287
  • Its website: $63,832
  • Polling: $44,000
  • Travel: $17,164 on airline tickets and $5,863 on hotels
  • Office supplies: $7,845
  • It has paid a San Rafael law firm, Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, around $59,000 to prepare campaign finance reports for both Measure D and San Francisco’s Measure E.
  • It paid $530,578 to EWC Media Services to place local ads.

No on D expenditures

Advertising: flyers and lawn signs

A flyer produced and distributed by the No on D campaign — a reprint of an op-ed piece published on Berkeleyside. The other side shows another op-ed piece also published on Berkeleyside. Click on image to enlarge it.

In addition to blitzing the Bay Area with ads, the No on D campaign has sent out at least seven mass mailings, which is defined by Berkeley election law as those going to more than 200 households.

There may have been more. In recent days, the No on D campaign has 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.

BART workers mistakenly took out some of the ads that the No on Measure D campaign had paid $46,750 for. Photo: Chris Watters

BART workers mistakenly took out some of the ads that the No on Measure D campaign had paid $46,750 for. Photo: Chris Watters

(Note: Just hours after the No on D advertising was plastered around the Ashby BART station, the film on the floor and other ads were mistakenly taken down by BART workers, said Trost. The workers thought they were unauthorized. They should be put back in the next few days.)

Campaign strategy

The campaign — and a similar one in San Francisco — is being run by Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm, according to Salazar. The firm has had a role in defeating numerous soda tax initiatives across the country, including one proposed by New York state and a portion size cap in New York City. A previous incarnation of the firm made the “Harry and Louise” commercials that helped derail President Bill Clinton’s effort to overhaul health care.

The No on D campaign has sent Goddard Gunster at least $863,305, according to the campaign filings. But it is difficult to tell from the campaign expense reports exactly how much the PR firm has kept, for it has passed on significant amounts of that money to subcontractors. For example, Goddard Gunster has paid $530,578 to EWC Media Services, which places local ads.

The campaign is also using three different political consulting firms. Rodriguez Strategies of Los Angeles is running the ground campaign in Berkeley, said Salazar. The No on D campaign has paid it around $109,273, according to campaign reports. The campaign hired Salazar’s firm, Alza Associates, to talk to the press, and has paid the firm $12,090. Other firms include First Tuesday, a South Carolina firm that has been paid $75,000.

The campaign has used Amplified Strategies, a Seattle-based direct mail company that has worked with Goddard Gunster and the American Beverage Association on numerous other campaigns. Amplified Strategies worked on an anti-soda tax campaign in Washington state, as well as against California’s Prop. 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified foods.

It appears as if two of the No on Measure D campaign’s public faces moved to the East Bay expressly to fight the proposed soda tax. Dustan Batton and Leon Cain work for Rodriguez Strategies of Los Angeles. Cain filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley in August objecting to some of the language council used in the ballot argument. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the wording did not comply with the law and ordered the city to change it. Cain recently moved to Berkeley from San Francisco and only registered to vote here Aug. 4, according to the East Bay Express. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 15, 2014.

Batton lived in the Los Angeles area until recently, according to his LinkedIn profile, and now resides in Walnut Creek. He worked as a public affairs consultant for the American Beverage Association from May 2012 to March 2013. He was the lead organizer for a soda tax campaign in El Monte, Calif., which was defeated 76% to 24%, according to Batton’s profile. As of Thursday afternoon, his Twitter profile still identified Los Angeles as his location.

Batton started to work for Rodriguez Strategies, which is running the No on D campaign, in February 2013, according to LinkedIn. He recently appeared as the campaign spokesman at a forum hosted by the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association on Oct. 6. Batton identified himself as a lobbyist at that meeting, according to people who attended.

The soda industry has experience defeating proposed soda taxes

The willingness of the beverage industry to move people to Berkeley and 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 squash 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.

The American Beverage Association has also gotten prominent non-profits to remove their support of soda taxes in exchange for large donations, according to news reports. In 2010, the soda industry offered to pay Philadelphia $10 million if its city council backed away from a plan to tax sugary beverages. Council agreed, and the soft drink industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

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% in the last 10 years, and just recently pledged to reduce it an additional 20%, he said.

“From our perspective, it’s bad public policy,” said Salazar, of local legislation. “There are ways you can promote healthy lifestyles. We don’t believe taxing people is the way to do it.”

Campaign donations reach record levels in Berkeley (10.07.14)
Beverage companies donate $800,000 to fight soda tax (09.22.14)
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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  • Loopholes Schmoopholes

    I’m not worried about people drinking soda or sugar or even getting sick from it. I don’t care if kids OD on sugar and die from chronic health problems. I certainly don’t care if there are exemptions for coffee (which I don’t put sugar in anyway).. that’s great! I just want to take some of that $8.5 BILLION coca-cola made last year, and give it to my city. A few cents here and there is the least they can pay us for sticking their ugly brand in my brain my whole life.

  • beachlibby

    You really shouldn’t make a habit of only reading the last sentence of a comment before replying, it makes you look impatient. Excuse me, I’m off to go walk in front of sneaky buses.

  • lovefelines

    Yet another repetition of the accusation that anyone who votes against Measure D is shilling for the ABA. FYI, there is honest disagreement about this measure. Yours isn’t the only point of view, Warrior.

  • lovefelines

    “We’re worried about people…” “Part of the idea of this law is to expand people’s mental category…” That kind of thinking is EXACTLY why people like me are offended by people like you. I support educating people, including children, to think through issues and make informed decisions, but despise paternalistic attempts at forcing or coercing them to make the choices I do. Remember what the road to Hell is paved with!

  • Guest

    Weird how comments from Measure D opponents ceased the minute someone mentioned subpoenaed server logs.

  • Len_Conly

    Measure D is a step in the right direction. It is unfortunate that so much time and money is being spent by corporations opposed to the initiative. Contrary to Romney’s assertion, corporations are not people. If they were, many of them would be in hell.

  • Jill Herschman

    First they came for our sugar… next they came for our bacon!!!

  • No on D. No on lies.

    Weird how Yes on D commenters keep making things up and attempting to slur anyone who disagrees with them with vague, unprovable garbage.

  • guest

    Sadly some of the main supporters of Measure D really are this ridiculous, and have stated that sugar is a “poison” that should be completely banned.

  • guest

    Being a knee-jerk contrarian is DEFINITELY a very Berkeley thing to do.

  • guest

    Hard to have freedom of choice when Yes on D is constantly lying and using junk science to support their claims.

  • guest

    The kind of knee-jerk opposition to something you describe here is a sad way to practice democracy.

  • guest

    Why is it that you believe that soda is suddenly making people sick now, in 2014, but wasn’t making people sick for the first hundred years it was on the market?

  • guest

    Apparently “NO SOLICITATION” signs don’t mean anything to the Yes on D drones. They’ve rung my bell multiple times despite several very clear signs.

  • guest

    Is Ryan Gosling okay with having his face used on a Yes on D image? Did the Yes on D campaign ask Gosling for his permission, or get the rights to use the copyrighted photograph of him before using it on their anti-sugar Facebook group?

  • Lord Tomlove

    How does referring to a public Facebook post fomenting anti-vaccination hysteria made as part of Ms. Etelson’s rabid anti-sugar advocacy equate to stalking?

  • guest

    I couldn’t agree more.

    In theory I support the idea of taxes against unhealthy choices, but I would like to see the money raised from those taxes go directly towards subsidizing the alternative GOOD choices.

    I don’t want to see money from a sugar tax dumped into the general fund for pothole repair, I want to see it used to subsidize organic produce or kitchen staples or something to get more people to cook at home instead of eating fast food or processed garbage.

  • .

    Exactly. Why is the school board president co chairing this instead of working on the issues affecting the school?

  • Monroe
  • charles Galtenstein

    You mean like how the beverage industry is so desperate to keep up its profits that it wants us to ignore the health risks, just like the tobacco industry wanted so long ago.

  • charles Galtenstein

    Sugar in the quantities we are consuming is a “poison”. Ignoring the long term health risks is actually the sad part. Do yourself a favor, watch “Fed Up”. Then talk about the “ridiculous” supporters.

  • charles Galtenstein

    Junk Science? And your side is relying on studies funded by the sugar and beverage industries. Your claims are as digesting as the ones put forward by the tobacco industry not ago.

  • charles Galtenstein

    You missed the part where he said he “looked into” the issue on his own and came to his own decision. That is the way to practice democracy, not just follow whoever came up with the most slick campaign

  • Charles_Siegel

    They don’t have to worry about being sent to hell, because corporations are “people” who do not die. They also do not have consciences – which makes it frightening that they now have so much influence over our politics.

    As the old saying goes, I will believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    it’s not sugar but high fructose corn syrup is the problem.

  • Smokin’ Steve

    Paternalistic Berkeley residents telling the poor ignorant soda drinkers what is good for them while clogging their own arteries tax free with Cheeseboard pizzas. Embarrassing.

  • Triton Scott

    Friend, I drink a Coke maybe once a year but I hate junk food even more, not having been to a McDonalds in over 30 years. I hate hypocrisy too but your little example doesn’t hold up, sorry.

  • guest

    But you have no problem with the big corporations who sell the soda telling the poor soda drinkers what to do.

  • charles Galtenstein

    You seem to forget the increase in consumption and the increase in the amount of sugar, and the type of sugar in it now. We believe it because there are studies that are proving it time and time again

  • JF

    Citizens United was an awful decision, but there was no restriction on California Proposition spending before it.

  • Guest

    It’s nearly impossible to resist the Cheeseboard with the millions they spend on marketing to kids and minorities.

  • lovefelines

    I’m still here, and still plan to vote NO. Weird how many comments from Measure D proponents try to vilify those who disagree with them :-)

  • lovefelines

    I now await her hard-hitting look into the origins and participants in the Yes on D group.

  • Andreas Echavez

    Problem? Plenty of ‘natural’ things are bad for your health in large quantities, such as pork, beef, pasta, and hell, even yogurt or other dairy products. Why aren’t they being taxed too?

    Honestly Berkeley should find real problems to write legislation for, like crime and poverty — instead of this useless drivel. Most working-class families are more concerned with not getting shot and putting food on the table then the availability of Kombucha at their local McDonalds.

  • Gusted

    I’m sure “YEARS of FCPC meetings” has the beverage industry terrified.

  • Gusted

    I think the most effective strategy large beverages have going for them is the use of smug, self righteous “posters” and their completely obnoxious accusations that anyone who expresses doubt about Measure D are paid shills for the industry.
    Brilliant false flag attack, and likely their operatives cost them nothing.

  • Smokin’ Steve

    Well, guest, congratulations on making my point with your incredibly condescending and paternalistic statement.

  • Smokin’ Steve

    Maybe you should focus on teaching critical thinking skills instead of building bubbles.

  • Smokin’ Steve

    You don’t understand? Singling out sugar in sodas as a health risk is biased. It’s coming from people who don’t, for the most part, consume these beverages, but continue to do other things that are just as unhealthy when overconsumed. They want to make their own decisions, but when it comes to soda they know better. Embarrassing.

  • Smokin’ Steve

    The No ads are awful and insulting, but Measure D still needs to fail.

  • Ellen

    I agree with Smokin’ Steve. These soda taxes are condescending.

    Look at D.C.: The soda tax fails but the yoga tax goes into effect. Crazy? Not really.

    Because the minorities you’re trying so hard to protect rejected the tax on a product they enjoy (a product white people say they can do without) and instead opted for a tax on all the new white people health clubs and yoga studios in newly gentrified neighborhoods. Since yoga studios and health clubs are rarely located in minority neighborhoods, minority residents rarely reap the wellness benefits of the classes anyway.

    So Berkeley can go right ahead feeling smug that taxing a particular type of sugar-sweetened food is good for minorities. The fact is, the soda companies give money to the NAACP and, in turn, the NAACP does more to support wellness programs for minority neighborhoods than a tax in Berkeley ever will.

    If you really wanted to do something positive you’d follow D.C.’s example: Tax the products you enjoy or the health clubs you can afford to join to pay for tax breaks for people making less than $500k a year. Or, better yet, tax health clubs and dedicate the tax funds for health and wellness programs in minority neighborhoods. When you’re ready to put your own money where your mouth is, then I’ll believe you actually care about the “poor people” you say you are trying to protect from the big bad soda companies.

  • Another Guest

    Oops, I think you confused ‘yes on D’ with ‘no on D’.

  • Another Guest

    I think the sentiment shared by the commenter more just shows how much of a turn-off the No on D materials are to her: it’s excessive, which is troublesome, which makes her suspicious of their motives. It’s not being rebellious, although her last sentence does suggest she’s got a streak of that! I think she’s being smart in evaluating the campaign she sees being run. Being turned off by one side’s tactics is a totally valid way to inform your voting choices.

  • Another Guest

    He’s not– I’ve seen his comments on Berkeleyside articles for, like, a year now. I don’t think he’s some imported-from-ABA-headquarters shill.

    Now, I’d bet money that ABA folks are trolling the comments. But by making these kinds of accusations, you’re probably just providing fodder for the No on D people.

  • Guest

    That’s a good way of framing this. Much appreciated.

  • Guest

    The commenter you replied to had valid questions. They deserved answers, not sarcasm.

  • guest


  • Len_Conly

    So corporations are zombies?

  • guest

    You think the way to promote health is by taxing healthy activities instead of unhealthy activities. You should try taking Economics 101.