Soda industry spent $67 million opposing state, city soda taxes & warning labels

Soda Industry Spent $67 Million Opposing State, City Soda Taxes & Warning Labels

Total big soda federal lobbying at about $14 million a year

Big Soda’s big three members—the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo—have spent a minimum of $67 million since 2009 to defeat soda taxes and warning labels in 19 cities and states, according to an analysis of lobbying and ballot initiative disclosure reports by the Center for the Science in the Public Interest.

On top of that, the industry trade association and two companies are spending upwards of $14 million a year at the federal level, where their public health objectives include opposition to a federal soda excise tax, the newly released and updated Nutrition Facts label with a line for added sugars, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which proposed a quantitative limit—12 teaspoons a day—for added sugars.

Federal lobbying disclosure reports do not itemize expenditures by topic, but Big Soda went from spending around $1 million to $5 million a year in the early 2000s to a peak of $40 million in 2009 when Congress considered a soda tax to pay for healthcare reform.

“There is no better way to understand the public health importance of soda taxes and warning labels than to see how much money Big Soda is willing to spend to oppose them,” said CSPI health promotion policy director Jim O’Hara.  “If those policies aren’t going to work like Big Soda says they won’t, why are they writing such massive checks?”

The Bay Area in California has been a hotbed of pro-soda-tax legislation—and a prime target for Big Soda’s open checkbook.   

In 2014, Big Soda spent more than $2.4 million in its unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Berkeley soda tax measure.  It also spent $9.2 million in San Francisco, where a soda tax ballot initiative won 55 percent of the vote but failed to garner the two-thirds required.  So far in 2016, Big Soda has spent more than $600,000 and $700,000 between January and June to oppose soda-tax ballot measures in San Francisco (which this time will require only majority support) and Oakland, respectively.  According to one news report, the industry has reserved more than $9 million in television advertising for the final weeks of the San Francisco campaign.

The industry also continues its practice of hiring consultants with close ties to the local political establishment and to both liberals and conservatives.  During the legislative session in California this year, they hired a lobbyist self-described as “the first and perhaps still the only lobbying firm owned by a Latina in California.”  For its Bay Area campaigns, the soda industry hired David Binder Research, which previously worked for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

This year also saw Big Soda spend more than $9.3 million in a failed attempt to defeat a 1.5-cent per ounce soda tax adopted by the Philadelphia City Council.  The industry blanketed the city with more than $9 million in television and radio advertising and other paid media.  Big Soda also hired a former council member as a lobbyist and enlisted consultants with close ties to the previous Democratic administration of Mayor Michael Nutter and the 2012 Obama campaign in Philadelphia. 

A key difference this year is significant, if not comparable, financial support for the public health initiatives from philanthropists Michael Bloomberg and John and Laura Arnold, as well as the American Heart Association.  In Philadelphia, Bloomberg, the Arnolds, and local supporters provided Philadelphians for a Fair Future with about a $2.2 million war chest, while the American Heart Association contributed about $334,000—meaning that Big Soda outspent public health advocates by only a 4 to 1 ratio.

To date, Oakland’s public health effort has raised slightly more than $800,000 from these sources as well as local advocates, and San Francisco’s just over $1 million.

Healthier Colorado, a local philanthropic foundation, has given more than $360,000 to Boulder, Colorado’s effort to pass a 2-cent-per-ounce tax.