The PAC against a soda tax in Berkeley has poured $800,000 into the No on Measure D campaign. Will Berkeley be first? Photo: Mike Mozart
The PAC against a soda tax in Berkeley has poured $800,000 into the No on Measure D campaign. Will Berkeley be first? Photo: Mike Mozart

The political arm of the American Beverage Association donated $500,000 on Sept. 16 to fight a proposed tax on sugary beverages in Berkeley, bringing to $800,000 the amount of money it has poured into the No on Measure D campaign.

The contribution, which appears to be the single largest in Berkeley history, will be used to print materials, mail campaign flyers, send campaign workers door-to-door, and pay for advertisements in newspapers and on websites. (Full disclosure: Berkeleyside has a number of No on D ads on its site, as well as a Yes on D ad.)

The amount of money is needed because the entire Berkeley City Council is supporting the soda tax, known as Measure D, and extraordinary measures are needed to fight their moral authority, said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign.

“We are up against a government-funded campaign effort,” he said “The Berkeley City Council is using all of their official means to deliver their messages the best they can.”

Salazar later said he misspoke when he used the term “government-funded.” While the city of Berkeley is not paying for the Yes on Measure D campaign, council members are talking about their support, he said. In addition, the council put a biased description of the measure on the ballot. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in September that certain phrases, like “high-calorie, sugary drinks” had to be removed from the ballot description because they were biased. State law requires ballot materials to be impartial.

The supporters of Measure D said they were not surprised that the American Beverage Association California PAC had poured so much money into the campaign. The group spent $4 million to defeat similar soda tax measures in Richmond and El Monte.

“The $500,000 contribution is both unprecedented – it’s the single largest contribution in the history of Berkeley from everything I could determine – and it’s just outrageous,” said Josh Daniels, the co-chair of the Healthy Child Initiative, or Berkeley vs. Big Soda, the Yes on Measure D campaign. He is also running for reelection to the Berkeley school board. “They are trying, through a tsunami or a flood of money, to win this campaign as opposed to talking about the issues.”

The group plans to hold a press conference about the campaign contribution Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m. at its campaign headquarters at 2225 Shattuck Ave.

The Sept. 16 filing was the first official notice that the American Beverage Council California PAC had put money into the No on D campaign. The committee running the campaign reported it had zero donations at the July 31 campaign filing deadline. People knew that the PAC had donated $300,000 because the name and amount of a measure’s largest contributor has to be printed on mailed material. After Aug. 6, any contribution over $1,000 has to be reported within 24 hours.

Salazar confirmed that the PAC had made both the $300,000 and $500,000 contribution. He declined to say how much the PAC had donated to a similar campaign in San Francisco since that information does not have to be released until Oct. 6.

Berkeley vs. Big Soda has raised about $75,000, said Daniels. The Ecology Center, which gave $11,368 in in-kind donations the last few weeks, appears to be the biggest donor. The UC Berkeley School of Public Health Advocacy Initiative also donated $9,838 recently, according to campaign filings.

The sugar-sweetened beverage tax, Measure D, would levy a 1 cent-per-fluid-ounce general tax on distributors of soft drinks, energy and sports drinks, and sweetened teas, and the bulk syrup used to sweeten them. If successful, Berkeley could be the first city in the nation to pass such a tax, though San Francisco has also taken up the fight.

Supporters for the tax include a long list of community organizations, city and school district officials and other individuals. The campaign has called itself “Berkeley vs. Big Soda,” the Healthy Child Initiative and, now, Yes on Measure D.

The opposition campaign, No on D — which previously was called No Berkeley Beverage Tax — has described itself as “a coalition of citizens, local businesses, and community organizations” but has published no list of supporters.

Salazar said Measure D was a “full of flaws, loopholes, and exemptions.” One major issue is that the funds raised will go into Berkeley’s general fund, where they can be used for any purpose. (The city council has indicated the money would be used for health programs)

Supporters of Measure D said the tax was necessary to help fight an epidemic of obesity and diabetes caused, in part, by the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

San Francisco voters will consider a similar measure in November, although the funds raised from that effort would go into an earmarked fund. That means the measure would have to pass with a two-thirds vote. Berkeley’s measure only needs to pass with a majority vote on Nov. 4.

Update: This article has been corrected to say the Ecology Center made $11,368 in in-kind, not cash, donations.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the soda tax, and more 2014 Election coverage.

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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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...