retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a story about how Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other US soft drink manufacturers are funding - to the tune of $25 million - initiatives in Oregon and Washington State that “would prohibit municipalities from taxing food sales,” hoping to “choke off a growing movement to tax sugary drinks.”

The story notes that “at a time of soaring childhood obesity, and with more than one in three adults overweight, health advocates say that soda taxes are an effective way to dampen consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Nearly 40 countries now have them, along with seven cities in the United States, including Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boulder, Colo.

“Towns and cities across the country have been mulling similar moves as a way to reduce sugary drink sales while raising revenue for programs that aim to blunt the public health impact of heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, conditions that have been linked to diets heavy in sugar.”

The Times writes that the soft drink manufacturers are “pushing sweeping ballot measures and statewide legislation that would permanently deny municipalities the ability to impose taxes on a broad range of goods and services. The initiatives are packaged and sold as citizen revolts against tax-happy politicians. None of them explicitly mention soda taxes.” And the marketing efforts behind the initiatives also don’t mention where the funding is coming from.

The story suggests that “the industry has momentum — and money — on its side. Here in Washington, the industry has spent over $20 million to promote Initiative 1634, according to state finance filings. Those fighting the ballot measure have raised $100,000.” Lawmakers in Michigan California and Arizona all have passed bills preventing localities from imposing such taxes, and Oregon and Washington are seen as critical tests of whether the manufacturers will continue to embrace ballot measures as a tactic.
KC's View:
The phrase that really irks me in this story is where it points out that “most voters don’t know” who is funding these initiatives.

Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the idea that state lawmakers, their palms no doubt greased with lobbying money from corporate interests, ought to be able to “choke off” discussions of these kinds of issues at the local level. What annoys me even more is the lack of transparency about who is funding these efforts - if companies aren’t being up front about their involvement and financial commitment, it is because a) they don’t have to, and b) they don’t want it known.

As citizens we may not be able to do much about the latter (though we can hope that corporate interests would have the courage of their convictions and be honest about their lobbying efforts), but we certainly can do something about the former. We can require that the funders behind these marketing efforts (whether they be supporting referenda or candidates) be disclosed anytime the funding they are providing goes above a certain number. I’m thinking $1,000.

Of course, someone - who probably has cashed a nice fat check from some lobbyist will probably get the bright idea to introduce a bill that would prevent the requirement or even a debate about requiring such transparency. And citizens will continue to get the best damned government money can buy.