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California’s Soda Warning Label Bill Dies in Committee

California’s Soda Warning Label Bill Dies in Committee



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The Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, which would have put warning labels on soda, will not come to pass

California has been one of the most persistent states when it comes to taxing, labeling, and limiting beverages.

Imagine a world where, when you bought a can of soda or a bottle of Snapple, you were faced with a prominent warning label (much like those on cigarette boxes) that said: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.” That’s exactly what would have happened if the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act were passed in California. But the bill died in committee, as it failed to garner enough votes, and health advocates expressed their disappointment.

“This really is a tragedy for California,” said Harold Goldstein, sponsor of the bill and executive director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. “The members of the Senate Health Committee, whose responsibility is to protect the health of Californians, chose instead to side with the beverage industry to keep scientifically-based information about the harmful effects of soda and other sugary drinks away from California consumers.”

California Senators voted 4-1 on the issue, with four abstentions. The bill needed five “yeses” to move forward. Last year in San Francisco, a measure to tax all sugary beverages also died in committee. Bob Achermann, executive director with CalBev, called the warning labels “sensationalist.”


California Won't Put Obesity Warnings on Sugary Drinks

S ugary soft drinks in California will not have to carry labels warning of diabetes, obesity and tooth decay after a bill died in the state Legislature on Tuesday, facing stark opposition from the food and beverage industry.

The measure, which would have required soda and other sweet beverages to advertise their negative health effects, passed the state Senate in May but failed on Tuesday in the Assembly’s health committee.

“Protecting the public’s health from the adverse effects of these products will help combat the diabetes and obesity epidemics in California,” said Democratic Senator Bill Monning, who failed last year to pass a measure enacting a tax on the drinks.

New research has shown that the overconsumption of carbohydrates, sugar and sweeteners is chiefly responsible for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, while the negative effects of fat have been greatly exaggerated.

(Read more in TIME’s June 23 cover story: Ending the War on Fat)

Public health advocates have proposed measures to fight rising obesity, and consumption of sugary drinks and junk food in states including California, Illinois and New York, but lawmakers have generally opposed regulations.

Illinois lawmakers rejected a soda tax in late May and a ban on large servings of sugary drinks proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was halted by a state judge last year.


That’s how infuriated lawmakers described soft drink companies — and what they pulled off in 2018 when they scored a legislative deal that bars California’s cities and counties from imposing taxes on sugary drinks.

Yet, despite its tarnished reputation, the deep-pocketed industry continues to exert its political influence in the nation’s most populous state, spending millions of dollars on politically connected lobbyists and doling out campaign contributions to nearly every state lawmaker.

The result? Bills long opposed by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other beverage companies continue to flounder. Just two weeks ago, a measure that would have undone the 2018 deal that lawmakers so vehemently protested was shelved without a hearing.

“Big Soda is a very powerful lobby,” said Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, which has petitioned lawmakers nationwide to crack down on sugar-laden drinks that health advocates say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other costly medical conditions.

“They’ve spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy,” Batch added. “And they’ve been doing it for a long time.”

In the past four years, soft drink companies spent about $5.9 million lobbying California lawmakers and giving to their campaigns or favorite charities. A California Healthline analysis of campaign finance records from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, found that the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have given to nearly every state officeholder — from Gov. Gavin Newsom to roughly five-sixths of the 120-member legislature.

The American Beverage Association declined an interview request to discuss its political giving and this year’s bill that would have upended the soda tax moratorium it helped orchestrate. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not return requests seeking comment.

In 2018, the industry spent $8.9 million to boost a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the California Business Roundtable that would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to levy taxes — not just taxes on sugary drinks — by requiring them to be approved by two-thirds of voters instead of a simple majority. Fearful that local governments could face a higher voting threshold for taxes and fees that would fund libraries, public safety and other services, lawmakers at the time said they had no choice but to negotiate with the industry.

In a deal that several lawmakers described as “extortion” and a “Sophie’s Choice,” the legislature agreed to pass a bill banning new local taxes on sugary drinks until Jan. 1, 2031, if the industry and other supporters dropped the ballot measure. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who had dined with industry executives several weeks before, signed the bill.

The California deal was a coup for Big Soda, which doesn’t appear to have paid a political price: Legislation that would have imposed a state tax on sugary drinks died a year later, as did a bill that would have required health warning labels on sugary drinks and another that would have banned sodas in grocery store checkout aisles.

This year’s bill, which would have reinstated cities and counties’ ability to put soda taxes before voters, is all but dead.

“They’re gaming the political system,” said Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood), the author of AB 1163. Nazarian said he hopes to revive the measure before April 30, the deadline for policy committees to hear legislation for the year.

“It’s one thing for us to make a bad policy decision once,” he said. “It’s another thing to give a signal to all the industries that will then utilize this loophole against us. How many more times are we going to be doing this?”

Public health advocates point to such taxes as a way to cut consumption of soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages, citing studies that show the more they cost, the less people buy them. On average, a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly the entire recommended daily amount for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day. Some energy drinks contain twice that.

Four California cities — Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco — had soda taxes in place before the 2018 legislative deal that were allowed to remain. Boulder, Colorado Philadelphia Seattle and the Navajo Nation also have soda taxes, with proposals under consideration in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

The revenue stream from the taxes could help fund financially strapped public health departments depleted by the covid pandemic, health advocates say.

For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses. Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So, while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks — including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa — national and state efforts have stalled here.

There’s also the political might of the soda industry.

“Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed,” said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. “We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There’s always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it’s very hard.”

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as “behested payments.” That’s on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke’s bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an emailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

“I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages,” Rendon said. “These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it’s simplistic to pin it on contributions.”

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda’s political power but said in an emailed statement she would review Nazarian’s bill “on its merits” if it comes before the Senate.

Nazarian’s bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren’t willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian’s bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which covid-19 only exacerbated.

“If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that,” said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. “But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them.”

Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.

Methodology: How California Healthline compiled data about soda companies’ political spending

Among the ways soft drink companies exert influence on the political process are contributing money to campaigns hiring lobbyists plying elected officials with drinks, meals and event tickets and making charitable contributions on the behalf of lawmakers.

Using the California secretary of state’s website, California Healthline downloaded campaign contributions made by the American Beverage Association PAC, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo — the three largest contributors from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020.

To track lobbying, we created a spreadsheet of expenses reported on lobbying disclosure forms, also available on the secretary of state’s website, by the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. We found details about how much the industry paid lobbying firms and which lawmakers, or members of their staff, accepted gifts.

To find how much these entities gave in charitable contributions, California Healthline pulled data on “behested payments” from the California Fair Political Practices Commission website. These are payments special interests can make to a charity or organization on behalf of a lawmaker. Sometimes, a few of these payments also show up on lobbying forms. We compared the behested payments with the lobbying reports to ensure we did not double-count money.


Soda Warning Label Still on Agenda in California

The effort to pass a recently failed bill requiring health-warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages in California is a marathon, not a sprint, said sponsoring Sen. Bill Monning.

“While it’s obviously a disappointment that we don’t have an immediate vehicle … we won’t just lie dormant. We will use 2016 to continue to educate members, and I think the most powerful persuasion for members here (is) in their districts,” Monning told the CrossFit Journal on Jan. 15.

He might be right. On Jan. 13—the same day Monning withdrew Senate Bill 203 for consideration by the Senate Health Committee—Field Research Corp. released a statewide poll stating that 78 percent of voters support a warning label on sugary beverages. That’s a slight increase from 2014, when 74 percent of California voters supported such a measure.

Monning, a Democrat from Carmel and the Senate majority leader, first introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act in February 2013 as Senate Bill 1000. The bill passed the Senate but ran out of time during the regular legislative session before the House could consider it. In February 2015, Monning again introduced the act—this time as SB 203. It failed to make it out of the Senate Health Committee.

Although Monning didn’t have the votes in the Health Committee to get the legislation to the Senate floor this year, he said he remains cautiously optimistic about 2017, when lawmakers will receive new committee assignments.

“My intent (is) let’s use the 2016 campaign season to inject it as a campaign issue in California,” he said.


California soda warning bill dies in committee

The 2015 California Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act SB203​​ - first introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning in 2014 as SB1000 – fell short in a vote at the Senate Health Committee, with four senators voting for the bill, one voting against the move, and four abstentions.

The bill – which would require sugary drinks to carry the health warning ‘Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay​’ – has been strongly criticized by beverage association CalBev, which recently observed​​ that: “If consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is going down and diabetes is going up, then how are soda and other sweetened beverages driving the problem?”

However, supporters of the bill - which has the backing of the American Diabetes Association - argue that drastic measures are needed given the scale of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, with the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently noting that: “Soda and sugar drinks promote expensive and debilitating diseases, but unlike most other foods or beverages, have no redeeming nutritional qualities.”

The pressure on the food and beverage industry to cut added sugar has ratcheted up in recent months, with the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) advising​ ​"dramaticallyreducing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages", ​which it claimed were "consistently associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes"the FDA proposing​​ that firms must list added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel, and the World Health Organization​​ arguing the added sugars should account for less than 10% of energy intakes - and ideally less than 5%.


Another Soda Tax Bill Dies, Another Win for Big Soda In California

That’s how infuriated lawmakers described soft drink companies — and what they pulled off in 2018 when they scored a legislative deal that bars California’s cities and counties from imposing taxes on sugary drinks.

Yet, despite its tarnished reputation, the deep-pocketed industry continues to exert its political influence in the nation’s most populous state, spending millions of dollars on politically connected lobbyists and doling out campaign contributions to nearly every state lawmaker.

The result? Bills long opposed by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other beverage companies continue to flounder. Just two weeks ago, a measure that would have undone the 2018 deal that lawmakers so vehemently protested was shelved without a hearing.

“Big Soda is a very powerful lobby,” said Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, which has petitioned lawmakers nationwide to crack down on sugar-laden drinks that health advocates say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other costly medical conditions.

“They’ve spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy,” Batch added. “And they’ve been doing it for a long time.”

In the past four years, soft drink companies spent about $5.9 million lobbying California lawmakers and giving to their campaigns or favorite charities. A California Healthline analysis of campaign finance records from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, found that the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have given to nearly every state officeholder — from Gov. Gavin Newsom to roughly five-sixths of the 120-member legislature.

The American Beverage Association declined an interview request to discuss its political giving and this year’s bill that would have upended the soda tax moratorium it helped orchestrate. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not return requests seeking comment.

In 2018, the industry spent $8.9 million to boost a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the California Business Roundtable that would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to levy taxes — not just taxes on sugary drinks — by requiring them to be approved by two-thirds of voters instead of a simple majority. Fearful that local governments could face a higher voting threshold for taxes and fees that would fund libraries, public safety, and other services, lawmakers at the time said they had no choice but to negotiate with the industry.

In a deal that several lawmakers described as “extortion” and a “Sophie’s Choice,” the legislature agreed to pass a bill banning new local taxes on sugary drinks until Jan. 1, 2031, if the industry and other supporters dropped the ballot measure. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who had dined with industry executives several weeks before, signed the bill.

The California deal was a coup for Big Soda, which doesn’t appear to have paid a political price: Legislation that would have imposed a state tax on sugary drinks died a year later, as did a bill that would have required health warning labels on sugary drinks and another that would have banned sodas in grocery store checkout aisles.

This year’s bill, which would have reinstated cities and counties’ ability to put soda taxes before voters, is all but dead.

“They’re gaming the political system,” said Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood), the author of AB 1163. Nazarian said he hopes to revive the measure before April 30, the deadline for policy committees to hear legislation for the year.

“It’s one thing for us to make a bad policy decision once,” he said. “It’s another thing to give a signal to all the industries that will then utilize this loophole against us. How many more times are we going to be doing this?”

Public health advocates point to such taxes as a way to cut consumption of soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages, citing studies that show the more they cost, the less people buy them. On average, a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly the entire recommended daily amount for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day. Some energy drinks contain twice that.

Four California cities — Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco — had soda taxes in place before the 2018 legislative deal that were allowed to remain. Boulder, Colorado Philadelphia Seattle and the Navajo Nation also have soda taxes, with proposals under consideration in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

The revenue stream from the taxes could help fund financially strapped public health departments depleted by the covid pandemic, health advocates say.

For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses. Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So, while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks — including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa — national and state efforts have stalled here.

There’s also the political might of the soda industry.

“Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed,” said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. “We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There’s always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it’s very hard.”

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as “behested payments.” That’s on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke’s bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an emailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

“I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages,” Rendon said. “These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it’s simplistic to pin it on contributions.”

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda’s political power but said in an emailed statement she would review Nazarian’s bill “on its merits” if it comes before the Senate.

Nazarian’s bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren’t willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian’s bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which covid-19 only exacerbated.

“If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that,” said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. “But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them.”

By Samantha Young Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.


Another Soda Tax Bill Dies. Another Win for Big Soda.

This article was published on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Kaiser Health News.

SACRAMENTO — A rogue industry. A gun to our head. Extortion.

That's how infuriated lawmakers described soft drink companies — and what they pulled off in 2018 when they scored a legislative deal that bars California's cities and counties from imposing taxes on sugary drinks.

Yet, despite its tarnished reputation, the deep-pocketed industry continues to exert its political influence in the nation's most populous state, spending millions of dollars on politically connected lobbyists and doling out campaign contributions to nearly every state lawmaker.

The result? Bills long opposed by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other beverage companies continue to flounder. Just two weeks ago, a measure that would have undone the 2018 deal that lawmakers so vehemently protested was shelved without a hearing.

"Big Soda is a very powerful lobby," said Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, which has petitioned lawmakers nationwide to crack down on sugar-laden drinks that health advocates say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other costly medical conditions.

"They've spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy," Batch added. "And they've been doing it for a long time."

In the past four years, soft drink companies spent about $5.9 million lobbying California lawmakers and giving to their campaigns or favorite charities. A California Healthline analysis of campaign finance records from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, found that the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have given to nearly every state officeholder — from Gov. Gavin Newsom to roughly five-sixths of the 120-member legislature.

The American Beverage Association declined an interview request to discuss its political giving and this year's bill that would have upended the soda tax moratorium it helped orchestrate. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not return requests seeking comment.

In 2018, the industry spent $8.9 million to boost a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the California Business Roundtable that would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to levy taxes — not just taxes on sugary drinks — by requiring them to be approved by two-thirds of voters instead of a simple majority. Fearful that local governments could face a higher voting threshold for taxes and fees that would fund libraries, public safety and other services, lawmakers at the time said they had no choice but to negotiate with the industry.

In a deal that several lawmakers described as "extortion" and a "Sophie's Choice," the legislature agreed to pass a bill banning new local taxes on sugary drinks until Jan. 1, 2031, if the industry and other supporters dropped the ballot measure. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who had dined with industry executives several weeks before, signed the bill.

The California deal was a coup for Big Soda, which doesn't appear to have paid a political price: Legislation that would have imposed a state tax on sugary drinks died a year later, as did a bill that would have required health warning labels on sugary drinks and another that would have banned sodas in grocery store checkout aisles.

This year's bill, which would have reinstated cities and counties' ability to put soda taxes before voters, is all but dead.

"They're gaming the political system," said Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood), the author of AB 1163. Nazarian said he hopes to revive the measure before April 30, the deadline for policy committees to hear legislation for the year.

"It's one thing for us to make a bad policy decision once," he said. "It's another thing to give a signal to all the industries that will then utilize this loophole against us. How many more times are we going to be doing this?"

Public health advocates point to such taxes as a way to cut consumption of soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages, citing studies that show the more they cost, the less people buy them. On average, a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly the entire recommended daily amount for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day. Some energy drinks contain twice that.

Four California cities — Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco — had soda taxes in place before the 2018 legislative deal that were allowed to remain. Boulder, Colorado Philadelphia Seattle and the Navajo Nation also have soda taxes, with proposals under consideration in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

The revenue stream from the taxes could help fund financially strapped public health departments depleted by the COVID pandemic, health advocates say.

For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses. Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So, while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks — including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa — national and state efforts have stalled here.

There's also the political might of the soda industry.

"Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed," said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. "We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There's always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it's very hard."

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as "behested payments." That's on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke's bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an emailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

"I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages," Rendon said. "These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it's simplistic to pin it on contributions."

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda's political power but said in an emailed statement she would review Nazarian's bill "on its merits" if it comes before the Senate.

Nazarian's bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren't willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian's bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which COVID-19 only exacerbated.

"If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that," said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. "But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them."

Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.

“Big Soda is a very powerful lobby. They've spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy, and they've been doing it for a long time.”

Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy, American Heart Association

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events.

They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.


Another soda tax bill dies, another win for Big Soda

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That’s how infuriated lawmakers described soft drink companies — and what they pulled off in 2018 when they scored a legislative deal that bars California’s cities and counties from imposing taxes on sugary drinks.

Yet, despite its tarnished reputation, the deep-pocketed industry continues to exert its political influence in the nation’s most populous state, spending millions of dollars on politically connected lobbyists and doling out campaign contributions to nearly every state lawmaker.

The result? Bills long opposed by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other beverage companies continue to flounder. Just two weeks ago, a measure that would have undone the 2018 deal that lawmakers so vehemently protested was shelved without a hearing.

“Big Soda is a very powerful lobby,” said Eric Batch, vice president of advocacy at the American Heart Association, which has petitioned lawmakers nationwide to crack down on sugar-laden drinks that health advocates say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other costly medical conditions.

“They’ve spent a lot of money in California to stop groups like ours from passing good policy,” Batch added. “And they’ve been doing it for a long time.”

In the past four years, soft drink companies spent about $5.9 million lobbying California lawmakers and giving to their campaigns or favorite charities. A California Healthline analysis of campaign finance records from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, found that the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have given to nearly every state officeholder — from Gov. Gavin Newsom to roughly five-sixths of the 120-member legislature.

The American Beverage Association declined an interview request to discuss its political giving and this year’s bill that would have upended the soda tax moratorium it helped orchestrate. Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not return requests seeking comment.

In 2018, the industry spent $8.9 million to boost a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the California Business Roundtable that would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to levy taxes — not just taxes on sugary drinks — by requiring them to be approved by two-thirds of voters instead of a simple majority. Fearful that local governments could face a higher voting threshold for taxes and fees that would fund libraries, public safety and other services, lawmakers at the time said they had no choice but to negotiate with the industry.

In a deal that several lawmakers described as “extortion” and a “Sophie’s Choice,” the legislature agreed to pass a bill banning new local taxes on sugary drinks until Jan. 1, 2031, if the industry and other supporters dropped the ballot measure. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who had dined with industry executives several weeks before, signed the bill.

The California deal was a coup for Big Soda, which doesn’t appear to have paid a political price: Legislation that would have imposed a state tax on sugary drinks died a year later, as did a bill that would have required health warning labels on sugary drinks and another that would have banned sodas in grocery store checkout aisles.

This year’s bill, which would have reinstated cities and counties’ ability to put soda taxes before voters, is all but dead.

“They’re gaming the political system,” said Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood), the author of AB 1163. Nazarian said he hopes to revive the measure before April 30, the deadline for policy committees to hear legislation for the year.

“It’s one thing for us to make a bad policy decision once,” he said. “It’s another thing to give a signal to all the industries that will then utilize this loophole against us. How many more times are we going to be doing this?”

Public health advocates point to such taxes as a way to cut consumption of soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages, citing studies that show the more they cost, the less people buy them. On average, a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly the entire recommended daily amount for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day. Some energy drinks contain twice that.

Four California cities — Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco — had soda taxes in place before the 2018 legislative deal that were allowed to remain. Boulder, Colorado Philadelphia Seattle and the Navajo Nation also have soda taxes, with proposals under consideration in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

The revenue stream from the taxes could help fund financially strapped public health departments depleted by the covid pandemic, health advocates say.

For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses. Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So, while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks — including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa — national and state efforts have stalled here.

There’s also the political might of the soda industry.

“Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed,” said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. “We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There’s always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it’s very hard.”

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as “behested payments.” That’s on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke’s bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an emailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

“I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages,” Rendon said. “These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it’s simplistic to pin it on contributions.”

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda’s political power but said in an emailed statement she would review Nazarian’s bill “on its merits” if it comes before the Senate.

Nazarian’s bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren’t willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian’s bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which covid-19 only exacerbated.

“If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that,” said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. “But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them.”

Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.

Methodology: How California Healthline compiled data about soda companies’ political spending

Among the ways soft drink companies exert influence on the political process are contributing money to campaigns hiring lobbyists plying elected officials with drinks, meals and event tickets and making charitable contributions on the behalf of lawmakers.

Using the California secretary of state’s website, California Healthline downloaded campaign contributions made by the American Beverage Association PAC, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo — the three largest contributors from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020.

To track lobbying, we created a spreadsheet of expenses reported on lobbying disclosure forms, also available on the secretary of state’s website, by the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. We found details about how much the industry paid lobbying firms and which lawmakers, or members of their staff, accepted gifts.

To find how much these entities gave in charitable contributions, California Healthline pulled data on “behested payments” from the California Fair Political Practices Commission website. These are payments special interests can make to a charity or organization on behalf of a lawmaker. Sometimes, a few of these payments also show up on lobbying forms. We compared the behested payments with the lobbying reports to ensure we did not double-count money.


Health Advocates Frustrated as Soda Warning Bill Dies

Health advocates are expressing frustration after a bill that would have required warning labels on sugary drinks died in Sacramento.

The state's Senate Health Committee voted 4-1 on Wednesday afternoon, but the bill needed five votes to advance. In addition to the five senators who voted, another four were present in the hearing room but did not vote.

"This is really a tragedy for California," said Harold Goldstein, executive director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, sponsor of SB203. Last year a similar bill made it through the Senate before stalling in the Assembly.

Along with many doctors, Goldstein says sugary drinks are a major driver of obesity and diabetes. The bill called for a label on most drinks with more than 75 calories per 12-ounce serving. This would include regular soda drinks. (Diet drinks were not covered, since they have no sugar and very few, if any, calories.)

The proposed label said: &ldquoSTATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.&rdquo

Such a warning label would spur some people to switch to healthier drinks, Goldstein said. He faulted the senators who did not vote for the bill, effectively killing it.

"The members of the Senate Health Committee, whose responsibility is to protect the health of Californians, chose instead to side with the beverage industry to keep scientifically-based information about the harmful effects of soda and other sugary drinks away from California consumers.&rdquo

Bob Achermann, executive director with CalBev, was pleased with the committee's decision. &ldquoAddressing obesity and diabetes is more complicated than a warning label," he said in a statement. "The best way to promote balanced lifestyles is through fact-based information, not sensational safety warning labels."

Darcel Harris Lee, president and CEO of the California Black Health Network, testified in support of the bill before the committee. She called the vote "disappointing," but said the bill would be back. She compared the advocacy her group is doing with that of the organization's efforts to put warning labels on cigarette packages decades ago.

"I truly believe we have to continue this fight," she said. "I'm not discouraged, I'm not deterred. We just continue this fight, and it is going to happen."

Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the author of the bill, also said he was not deterred.

&ldquoThe scientific evidence of the proven adverse health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages demands a health warning label, and it is only a matter of time before California enacts legislation that informs individuals about healthful beverage choices.&rdquo


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For example, last year San Francisco directed $1.6 million of its soda tax revenue to local programs that feed residents affected by school closures and job losses. Seattle tapped its soda tax revenue to give grocery vouchers to its hardest-hit residents.

Nazarian said he expected his attempt to undo the soda tax moratorium to be an uphill battle, but he is frustrated the bill was denied even one hearing.

Nazarian, like lawmakers before him, is butting up against a strong anti-tax environment in U.S. politics, said Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. So, while more than 40 countries have imposed national taxes on sugary drinks — including the UK, Mexico, Portugal and South Africa — national and state efforts have stalled here.

There’s also the political might of the soda industry.

“Look at how much money they spend fighting all these bills that have been proposed,” said Andreyeva, who has studied the soda industry since 2007. “We have seen dozens and dozens of bills at the state and local level. There’s always a lot of opposition by the industry. They are well-funded, they will organize and it’s very hard.”

In California, soft drink companies spent $4.4 million in the past four years lobbying lawmakers and state officials, treating them to dinners and sporting events. They hired veteran political firms staffed by former government employees who know how the Capitol works and often already have relationships with lawmakers and their aides.

For instance, until earlier this year the American Beverage Association had Fredericka McGee on its payroll as its top California lobbyist. She had worked for five Assembly speakers. Now, McGee is chief of staff to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, a former state legislator who in 2018 was the chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, which oversaw the deal banning new local soda taxes.

In addition to lobbying, the industry spent just over $1.5 million on contributions to lawmakers, including big checks written to charities on their behalf.

The largest contributions flowed to the lawmakers with the most influence.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola gave a total of $25,000 to charities in the name of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which tracks the donations, known as “behested payments.” That’s on top of the $35,900 Rendon collected in his campaign account from the industry over the past four years.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins cashed $26,000 in campaign checks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and accepted a $5,000 donation to one of her charities from Coke’s bottling plant in her San Diego district.

In an emailed statement, Rendon described the issue of sugary drinks as complex and said he co-authored legislation in 2015 that would have imposed a tax on distributors of sugary drinks. It died in committee.

“I want us to do something to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages,” Rendon said. “These bills have been hard to pass, but I think it’s simplistic to pin it on contributions.”

Atkins did not comment on Big Soda’s political power but said in an emailed statement she would review Nazarian’s bill “on its merits” if it comes before the Senate.

Nazarian’s bill is on hold in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, led by Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood). A spokesperson for Burke did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Burke also received money from soda companies, collecting about $22,000 from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association from 2017 through 2020.

Public health groups aren’t willing to admit defeat and are mobilizing a grassroots effort to get a hearing for Nazarian’s bill. They say California must address the disproportionate health effects of sugary drinks on Black and Latino communities, which COVID-19 only exacerbated.

“If the members of the legislature were looking at data and using data as the decision-making criteria for whether we should allow a ban on local taxes to be lifted, they would have to support that,” said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a program of the Public Health Institute. “But they are not looking at the data. Something else is influencing them.”

Methodology

How California Healthline compiled data about soda companies’ political spending

Among the ways soft drink companies exert influence on the political process are contributing money to campaigns hiring lobbyists plying elected officials with drinks, meals and event tickets and making charitable contributions on the behalf of lawmakers.

Using the California secretary of state’s website, California Healthline downloaded campaign contributions made by the American Beverage Association PAC, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo — the three largest contributors from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020.

To track lobbying, we created a spreadsheet of expenses reported on lobbying disclosure forms, also available on the secretary of state’s website, by the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. We found details about how much the industry paid lobbying firms and which lawmakers, or members of their staff, accepted gifts.

To find how much these entities gave in charitable contributions, California Healthline pulled data on “behested payments” from the California Fair Political Practices Commission website. These are payments special interests can make to a charity or organization on behalf of a lawmaker. Sometimes, a few of these payments also show up on lobbying forms. We compared the behested payments with the lobbying reports to ensure we did not double-count money.

Elizabeth Lucas of KHN contributed to this report.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Children's Health Defense.


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