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The Masterminds Behind the Phony Anti-Soda Tax Coalitions

Opinion

Deja vous all over again?

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a controversial cap on sugary drink portion sizes. If the proposal is passed, sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces will no longer be able to be sold in the city’s restaurants, stadiums, food carts and movie theatres.

Now, a so-called “grassroots” coalition called New Yorkers for Beverage Choices has sprung up to oppose the mayor’s measure. But an investigation by the Republic Report found that the coalition is entirely the creation of the American Beverage Association and its high-powered issue advocacy firm Goddard Gunster (formerly Goddard Claussen):

The group bills itself as a “coalition of citizens, businesses, and community organizations who believe that consumers have the right to purchase beverages in whatever size they choose.”

But the “organizations” listed on the website simply run the gamut of businesses that sell soda, ranging from AMC Entertainment to the Chik-Fil-A.

Goddard Gunster is not a group of concerned citizens in New York City. It is based in Washington, D.C.

If this is all sounding familiar to you, you’re not imagining things. Back in 2010, the New York Times reported on a “grassroots” coalition dedicated to killing Governor David Paterson’s proposed penny per ounce soda tax:

Enter New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes, set up by the beverage industry, grocers and the Teamsters, who work as drivers and in production. The organization’s Web site describes it as a humble coalition of “hard-working individuals, struggling families and already burdened small businesses,” like Benny’s Pizza and Kay’s Deli.

But behind the scenes, much of the strategic work came from Goddard Claussen, the public affairs company whose “Harry and Louise” commercials helped defeat President Bill Clinton’s health care overhaul efforts. The company was retained by the American Beverage Association to lobby against the New York tax.

Goddard Claussen was so proud of killing the NYS soda tax, that it highlighted its New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes coalition on its website with a full page write-up that boasted: “As part of a comprehensive outreach effort, we recruited over 10,000 citizens and 158 businesses to join New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes.” Shortly after this web page was discovered by the media, it was removed from the website.

Goddard Gunster continues to promote its work derailing soda taxes. Subsidiary Goddard Claussen West currently highlights the California astroturf coalition it formed in 2009-2010:

GC coordinated with the national effort (now known as Americans Against Food Taxes) and created a California coalition, Californians Against Food and Beverage Taxes (CAFBT).

CAFBT initially recruited hundreds of supporters throughout the state including organizations whose leaders and members could serve effectively as spokespeople for the coalition in the press and as messengers to key legislators. The California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Market Association and California Retailers Association took lead roles in that regard.

If you’re wondering about the national anti-soda tax coalition effort cited above, the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch has this to say about it:

Americans Against Food Taxes (AAFT) is a front group funded by the beverage industry, which consists of major restaurant chains, food and soft drink manufacturers and their associated lobbying groups. It was organized by the American Beverage Association to fight a proposed three to ten cent tax on soda, sugary drinks and energy drinks to help fund health care reform in the United States….its extensive membership consists mainly of lobbying groups for packaged food and soda companies, chain restaurant corporations and the world’s large food and soft drink manufacturers and distributors, including the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Pepper-Royal Crown Bottling Co., PepsiCo, Canada Dry Bottling Co. of New York, the Can Manufacturers Institute, 7-Eleven Convenience Stores, and Yum! Brands.

Its domain name, www.nofoodtaxes.com, was formerly registered to Goddard Claussen public relations, based in Washington, D.C. The website’s domain registration has since changed to Domains By Proxy, Inc., which allows registrants to remain anonymous.

Ties run long and deep between the beverage industry and Goddard Claussen. According to her bio, American Beverage Association President Susan Neely previously worked for Health Insurance Association of America and “created and managed numerous issues campaigns, including the award winning ‘Harry and Louise’ TV commercials and campaign” in 1994, which was created by Goddard Claussen.

With the beverage industry on overdrive to halt sugary drink taxes and now the Bloomberg portion cap proposal, it’s not surprising that almost everywhere a soda tax or portion cap has been proposed, an anti-soda tax or anti-portion cap coalition and website has quickly appeared. In Richmond, California, which will have a soda tax measure on the November ballot, the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes was recently created by the beverage industry. The coalition’s website domain is registered under Goddard Claussen Public Affairs in Washington. Anti-soda tax coalitions have also been created in the following locales. Note the similarities in many of the domain names:

Texas:  No Texas Beverage Tax

Philadelphia: Philly Jobs. Not Taxes.

Washington, D.C.: No DC Beverage Tax

Washington State:  Washingtonians Against the Beverage Tax

Rhode Island:  Rhode Islanders Against the Beverage Tax

Hawaii: No Hawaii Beverage Tax

Baltimore: Stop the Baltimore City Beverage Tax 

Chicago: Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes

Pittsburgh: No Pittsburgh Beverage Tax

Vermont: Stop the Vermont Beverage Tax

Kansas: Kansans Against Food and Beverage Taxes

Oregon: Oregon Coalition Against Beverage Taxes

Illinois: Illinois Coalition Against Beverage Taxes

The deep-pocketed American Beverage Association, which is funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper/Snapple and others, has been successfully framing the sugary beverage tax issue across the nation with the help of astroturf coalitions created by Goddard Claussen/Goddard Gunster. Mayor Bloomberg’s recent portion cap proposal is getting the same treatment with the industry’s creation of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices. Until public health advocates can effectively undermine the legitimacy of these fake coalitions, Big Beverage will continue to have the messaging advantage.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    New Yorkers for Beverage Choices has cleverly stripped a page from the playbook of traditional food Taliban front groups who perniciously cast themselves as phoney “consumer organizations”, frauds like CSPI, CSF, Consumers Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, HSUS, etc,, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
    Well done New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, well done indeed!
    See how the food police whine and cry when their own duplicitous tactics are turned against them. Seems we need a soda tax and a double standard of fairness to accommodate hate mongering anti-food avengers. I don’t think so. Because, you see, I am one of those hundreds of millions of concerned consumers at the grassroots level who “believe that consumers have the right to purchase beverages in whatever size they choose”. I mean, just give us the choice…inform us and give us the right to know and the right to choose. Why do you crackpot foodistas insist upon repealing our right to choose?
    All we want is the right to choose — now that should sound mighty familiar to you whining foodie wingnuts.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Good investigative report. Important, too.
    Unfortunately the corporate front groups are insidious, as Food Safety News is all too aware.
    For instance, a group like the Center for Consumer Freedom also has a front group related to beverages, the American Beverage Institute. The Center for Consumer Freedom is known for hiring people who do nothing more than come into comments and attack legitimate non-profits such as Consumers Union, HSUS, and Union of Concerned Scientists, and so on.
    I know this is a reason so many web sites have now turned to either Facebook comments or Disqus for comments–so that anonymous front people can no longer pretend to be many different people writing basically the same thing.
    It doesn’t prevent all problems, but it makes a dent.
    And thank goodness for Source Watch.

  • Joanie

    Thanks Ted-the-Troll for demonstrating once again for all to see that You’re the wingnut-iest!

  • nhuehnergarth

    Ted,
    Just wanted to point out that as a consumer I don’t have the choices I want when it comes to sizes of sugary drinks. Industry has already made those choices for me.
    If I occasionally want to order 1 serving of a sugary drink (8 ounces is universally recognized as a single serving) I can’t do that at any restaurant or venue that I frequent. Why? Because the smallest size starts at 16 ounces at most places. You’ll never find an 8 oz. sugary drink anywhere — not even on a children’s menu!
    So I am forced to pay extra for what I really don’t want. And research has shown that I’ll likely finish the entire too-large drink and ingest extra calories I don’t need because I’m human and drink what I’m given. Most people can only maintain portion control if they are given proper portions in the first place.
    I’m always mystified by people who think they currently have “choice” in the size of their sugary beverage when at a restaurant or other venue. It’s clear the choices available have been decided by that venue, not based on what’s best for the consumer (with regard to health or cost) but based on what’s best for that venue’s bottom line.

  • Arnie

    Help me…please, somebody help me!
    I’ve fallen and lost my portion control.
    Oh, woe is me. Help! Help needed over here, will someone help me please????

  • Carlo Silvestri

    Well, actually we do have a choice. We don’t have to order the sugary drinks at all. It’s a better and healthier choice. I never order soft drinks and when I order iced tea, I never add sugar.
    You do have a choice.

  • microguy

    1. Touche Ted
    2. True….Ingesting large volumes of sugary beverages is not ideal for health…ie ingesting large volumes of SUGAR is not ideal for health. I guess these folks want an 8 or 16oz soda cap mandated while they engorge carbohydrate laden potatoes, breads, deserts, etc…
    3. Nancy,your human and you do have a choice. Either fill or request that your monstrous 16oz cup be filled halfway, put the lid on it and leave other folks liberties alone.
    4. Isn’t the ability to form a coalition a beautiful freedom!!! That’s what being American is all about! You have the choice to A)Stand up for what you believe in and B)decide what size drink you want to order…at least for now.
    5.)”Until public health advocates can effectively undermine the legitimacy of these fake coalitions, Big Beverage will continue to have the messaging advantage”- Ummm. Fake coalition? Last I checked industries, businesses,organizations and like minded individual folks form coalitions to stand up for what they believe, on both sides of the ideological and political spectrums. These believe consumers want the choice. I am not saying it is right, but its choice, and that should be a right. Perhaps those who spend all their time trying to “undermine” people would better expend their energy in developing real, viable solutions.
    6.) If you are reading this article with a Venti Mocha in your hand….nuff said.

  • Nancy Huehnergarth

    Ted,
    Just wanted to point out that as a consumer I don’t have the choices I want when it comes to sizes of sugary drinks. Industry has already made those choices for me.
    If I occasionally want to order 1 serving of a sugary drink (8 ounces is universally recognized as a single serving) I can’t do that at any restaurant or venue that I frequent. Why? Because the smallest size starts at 16 ounces at most places. You’ll never find an 8 oz. sugary drink anywhere — not even on a children’s menu!
    So I am forced to pay extra for what I really don’t want. And research has shown that I’ll likely finish the entire too-large drink and ingest extra calories I don’t need because I’m human and drink what I’m given. Most people can only maintain portion control if they are given proper portions in the first place.
    I’m always mystified by people who think they currently have “choice” in the size of their sugary beverage when at a restaurant or other venue. It’s clear the choices available have been decided by that venue, not based on what’s best for the consumer (with regard to health or cost) but based on what’s best for that venue’s bottom line.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    microguy, I have a better idea: leave the 16 ounce cup sizes, and you can ask for two of them if you really need that much pop.
    As for other food: false equivalency. We’re not talking potatoes and bread, we’re talking about pop. Last time I heard, potatoes and yes, even bread, have nutritious value. Same cannot be said for pop.
    And your coalition doesn’t give a darn about consumer choice, it knows that the people fighting the bigger cup sizes are right. If people are given smaller cup sizes, they really will drink less pop. Scares your coalition to death.
    The talk of “liberty” is nothing more than the worst form of marketing.

  • microguy

    Shelley, you missed the point. You see, I have self control which means I make choices. I do not care what size cup I am given, I have the choice to decide what to put in it and how much of it to consume and whether or not to get a refill.So I guess what you are saying is that the mass population is either too stupid or too irresponsible to make a choice on their own and therefore we need a few smart folks to force them to do it? Seems a bit dictator like eh?
    As for other foods….take some biochemistry courses. The problem in this country with obesity is not because of soda cup sizes. Its the culmination of people indulging in foods that are high in carbohydrates, large in portion sizes, their lack of excersing, all tying back into education and upringing…or simply….culture. As opposed to eating lean and green, people eat brown and white (high starch foods…ie. sugar).So yes,lets make a comparison. While some high starch foods like potatoes may have “some nutritional value” (~9g protein)the potato is roughly 63g of carbohydrates per 300g serving for a total calorie count of 278. Compare that to a 20oz oz. Coke Cola bottle at 65g carbohydrates and 240 calories. Now, take a 12 oz coke can at 39g of carbs and 140 calories. You see, the potato has as much carbohydrate sugar as the large coke product and more calories with little more to offer than a few grams of protein, which you will more likely get from the steak sitting next to it. So which is worse and why should beverages be the stepchild???
    Therefore, it isn’t the soda pop size. It is the additive effect of making the choice to eat 63g of carbs in a potato and add another 65g of carbs onto it with the choice of a soda, and then eating a dessert, etc… Limiting soda size will do NOTHING.
    The talk of “liberty” is patriotism and pride. You must take your liberty for granted, which is why you likely support a suppression of freedom of choice. My recommendation would be for you to travel more, because we can lose it.

  • Ted

    Controversial perspective there, Shelley, on “liberty” as nothing more than cheap, tawdry marketing. Of course, it did seem to sell pretty well here in America in the late 18th century, again in France in the early 19th century and now it’s being advertised and sold as the Arab Spring (not to be confused with Irish Spring TM soap).
    I guess you are insinuating liberty is over-rated when it obstructs your anti-farm anti-food authoritarian agenda? We have your number Shelley and we’re not sold on any of your canned talking points.
    Oh, and I think microman’s coalition is every bit as legitimate and concerned as any of your various coalitions and cults…probably more legit and sincere. You and your cronies have set the bar pretty low, girl.

  • Michael Bulger

    Continuing to compare sodas to potatoes is continuing to overlook the fact that potatoes have at least some redeeming nutritional worth.
    The research is there that shows that: 1. Sodas are empty excess calories. 2. People consume more when given larger portions.
    I haven’t heard public health officials attribute this to stupidity or irresponsibility. But in my opinion it is likely that beverage industry front groups will continue insisting that suggesting a soda size restriction is insulting individuals or limiting personal freedom.

  • Ollie

    Well, a little fact checking…”sodas are empty excess calories” only after you have consumed sufficient calories to meet daily requirement. No valid “research” could ever show otherwise. Calories are calories and you need ‘em wherever they might come from. Anyone with a credible grasp of nutrition science would know that. It is becoming obvious the “beverage industry front groups”, novices that they are, have a lot more on the ball than your basic pompous NYU anti-food agenda whore. I mean, as long as we all are telling what we’ve “heard” and offering up unsolicited biased “opinions”, just sayin’.

  • microguy

    If they are “empty” calories…why are they such a problem! Haha
    I suggest you read up on how your body utilizes carbohydrate in metabolic pathways, then you will understand my potatoe and coke analogy. It is not, once again, the soda size. It is how much of what chemical nutrient you CHOOSE to consume. You could never consume soda, but your other diet CHOICES could put you in the same obesity boat.

  • JC

    Gee Micro guy — if eat a few potatoes you tend to know when to stop because your body receives a signal that you’re Full. Potatoes (not chips) are also rich is a whole list of healthy-for-your-body nutrients.
    Corn-sucrose liquids (soda) is pure junk with a sucrose/fructose sugar imbalance that by-passes the body’s “full” signal — making it really easy to consume a huge amount of empty (non-nutritious) calories. Soda companies formulate for this effect and make HUGE profits annually from junk-sugar water…
    As to your touted claims to being able to make choices — well the fact that you’re defending this stuff suggests you’re a user. And BTW did you hear that Advertising really works? Soda companies know this too — and reap HUGE profits from their tax-deductible advertising expense accounts… So there’s a lot of people drinking this swill without a clue of what it’s doing to their health — and to our tax-supported health care system.

  • Michael Bulger

    A 32 oz. Coke has over 80 g of added sugar. Does it not? This is almost double what the USDA would expect from a healthy daily diet. And that is just one beverage.
    The USDA recommends we choose other beverages in place of sugary drinks. I wonder how much the beverage industry stockholders lose each year to trolls..

  • microguy

    “User”??? How about an American consumer who chooses to have a soda beverage from time to time and will CHOOSE how much I want to consume!
    Sucrose is simply a disaccharide carbohydrate composed of glucose and fructose monomers. Enzymes break it down into the monosacchardies which are then absorbed across the intestinal epithelium. The bodies “full signal” is actually a complex system of what are referred to as satiety hormones, such as cholycystokinin and others which are effected by a large host of variable factors. I would like to see published literature on this by-passing you speak of, as opposed to speculation.
    One final point that I rarely see mentioned. If “Big beverage” is out solely for profit by, “intentionally formulating a sugar imbalance” to sell more product which in turn is consumed by “people drinking this swill without a clue of what its doing to their health” aka…the major problem you folks seem to think results in our obesity epidemic, then please speculate to this point… Why would these soda companies invest resources in the development of 0 calorie options such as Coke Zero? Why are brewing companies producing lower calorie options for beer?
    Apparantely, there is awareness of the over-consumption effects of soda and high calorie beverages (not to mention the other adverse developments other than obesity…like tooth decay), which in turn has created a consumer demand for product options that are as close to “the real thing”, like Coke Zero, for which the industry is producing.
    You see, it all comes back to choice. Fill your whatever size cup with high carb coke or no carb coke zero. The evil industry has given you a choice, excercise it.

  • Ted

    Our self-appointed food cop Bulger insists upon confusing foods with nutrients and menus with nutrition. Now, there’s one higher education loan that should be partially written off, if only on grounds of a defective product in NYU’s nutrition and public health education.
    Also still screaming “troll” in the stead of crying “uncle”, I see. Is that the prescribed NYU methodology for defending one’s research? Maybe a complete write-down of that school loan is in order.

  • jim

    Notice once again how Ted uses personal attacks and disinformation to “make” his case — proving once again that a troll is as a troll does…