- The American Beverage Association funneled $10.6 million into a fight against the Philadelphia tax on sugary beverages, according to newly released lobbying reports and disclosures filed with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics. The tax passed, and will be collected starting Jan. 1.
- That amount was more than four times what supporters of the tax spent on the campaign, which totaled about $2.5 million.
- The disclosures also revealed the funders on both sides. The ABA's funds came primarily from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, plus an additional $68,000 Coca-Cola spent on its own.
This isn't the first time the food and beverage industry has far outspent its opposition on lobbying and campaigns related to legal issues that could impact manufacturers. When the government was debating the federal dietary guidelines last year, Coca-Cola, food industry and farm groups spent $15.3 million on lobbying related to the dietary guidelines and other issues in the quarter running April to June 2015. That's compared to the $1.1 million its opposition spent in that time frame.
As of June, the ABA had proven its track record in influencing policy, successfully campaigning against 43 soda taxes since 2008. Two of those were in Philadelphia. The fact that the tax passed in a city as large as Philadelphia could suggest that enough momentum is backing the anti-sugar movement that these taxes may become more commonplace.
The vast majority of the pro-tax campaign's funding came from the nonprofit Philadelphians for a Fair Future, which provided $2.2 million—primarily from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($1.6 million) and Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold ($400,000). Among the two dozen financial backers who supported the tax's campaign were two Philadelphia law firms, the regional Carpenters union, the mayor's own political committee and the American Heart Association, which spent about $330,000.
It's not yet clear how much a tax might impact soda sales and consumption, which are already steadily declining. If these taxes don't have a pronounced effect and seem inevitable as other major cities like San Francisco join the debate, the ABA and manufacturers may consider pivoting those investments elsewhere to improve sales another way.