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Consumer

Beverage Industry Spending Millions To Defeat Richmond Soda Tax

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RICHMOND (CBS/AP) — A group backed by the beverage industry is spending millions of dollars to defeat a soda tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot in Richmond.

Campaign finance statements released Friday show the “No on N” campaign has spent $2.2 million compared to just $25,000 by supporters of the tax, the Contra Costa Times reported Sunday.

The opposition group is led by the beverage industry lobbying organization, the American Beverage Association.

Richmond’s measure would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on businesses that sell soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Supporters say the drinks are linked to childhood obesity, and the tax would reduce their consumption. A companion measure encourages city officials to spend the $2 million to $4 million that would be raised by the tax to fight childhood obesity.

Opponents say it would cost businesses millions of dollars in lost sales and raise prices for consumers. They are unabashed about all the spending.

“We’re going to spend what is necessary to inform voters about a misleading and misguided tax that will cost Richmond residents and businesses millions of dollars a year in higher grocery bills and lost sales and revenue,” Chuck Finnie told the Contra Costa Times.

Finnie is with a San Francisco-based public relations firm hired by the beverage association to coordinate the “No on N” campaign.

Signs against the tax have popped up around the city, and staffers at a campaign office funded by the beverage industry make calls and coordinate the placement of signs, the Contra Costa Times reported.

“They’re spending more and more because they’re not confident, and they know that Richmond can pave the way for more cities to protect children’s health from their products,” said City Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the tax’s leading supporter.

The Los Angeles County city of El Monte is pursuing a similar soda tax although officials there say their main goal is to raise revenue for city coffers. The tax would raise between $3.5 and $7 million a year.

The city is awaiting amended campaign finance filings for the measure, according to the city clerk’s office.

But Mayor Andre Quintero says the beverage industry is fighting hard against the measure in his city as well.

“Billboards, cable television ads, events, mailers, canvassing teams, phone banks, legal maneuvers, constant polling … we are under siege,” he said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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