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Monday, November 3, 2014

Big Soda Spends $9 Million in SF Election: Did a Progressive Political Club Sell Out to The Beverage Industry?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 8:52 AM

click to enlarge A campaign mailer funded by Big Soda, sent out by the Milk Club, backing David Campos.
  • A campaign mailer funded by Big Soda, sent out by the Milk Club, backing David Campos.
Tomorrow is election day, and local politicians and political groups are in a heated race. But it's not the one you think.

The election is the main run, of course. But as Coca-Cola and Pespi Co. drop a near-record shattering $9 million into this election to beat Proposition E, the Sugary Beverage Tax, a runner-up race will answer the age-old electoral mystery: Who can sell out the fastest?

The newest (and not so new) allegation points fingers at a local progressive heavyweight, The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. Supporters of the Sugary Beverage Tax, Yes on E, say the Milk Club took money from the American Beverage Association (that's The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi Co. to you), and subsequently handed the No on E campaign their endorsement. 

According to the Yes on E folks, that money is being used to help boost Supervisor David Campos' Assembly campaign. 

Proposition E would impose a two-cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages in San Francisco, in a move meant to curb diabetes and skyrocketing healthcare costs, co-authored by Supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar, it was also once supported by Assembly candidates Campos and Supervisor David Chiu. 

That was then, and this is now. Now, the mudslinging paints both candidates as alleged Big Soda sellouts.

But let's start with Campos.

Since August, rumors persisted through political circles that the American Beverage Association was about to leave a hefty payment for the Milk Club so they could help their favored candidate, Campos.

But as the rumor mill first churned, the Milk Club had only taken $5,000 from Big Soda. At the time, when we asked Milk Club co-President Tom Temprano if his club would take large sums of money from the beverage industry (which was then rumored to be about $300,000), he told us "I find that completely unlikely. I'm going to say that's not a situation we're going to be in."

Oh, how times change. 

Though it's not a figure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Milk Club now has a hefty $45,000 in the bank courtesy of Big Soda, which the filings for No on E note are for "campaign mailers." Naysayers alleged the Milk Club would funnel Big Soda money to prop up Campos. 

And lo and behold, the future was foretold: Campaign mailers featuring a big, glossy Campos photo arrived on San Francisco doorsteps. 

The Milk Club isn't alone in taking Big Soda's money and also delivering with No on E endorsements. The Young Democrats also took $25,000 from the ABA, and they also endorse Campos. 

The Coca-Cola co. and Pepsi co. backed No on E campaign ads feature the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's name on the bottom of the video, as an endorser. 

San Francisco Parent PAC, a local political group that pushes issues pertinent to kids and families, co-hosted a press conference last Wednesday to call out the Milk Club and Campos for aiding Big Soda in the fight against Prop. E.

"Shame on the Milk Club and Shame on the [Young Democrats] for selling out San Francisco's children," Michelle Parker, co-founder of the SF Parent PAC told SF Weekly.

Campos denies the allegations up and down. He told us he disagreed strongly with the Milk Club's endorsement of No on E, and denied any coordination between him and the Milk Club on the mailers.

"The polls are showing Chiu losing, and they're throwing everything at me," Campos said. And as for his support of the Soda Tax, he said "I went to campaign for the soda tax just this week. I've even talked about it on Spanish radio to say it's important to the Latino community."

He contests the story is a plant by his Assembly competition, Chiu, and Chiu's campaign consultant Nicole Derse. 

And as coincidence would have it, Derse emailed while I was writing the above paragraph, asking "are you writing up a follow up story on soda $?" She's fished around the "Campos takes Big Soda's money" angle for months, and some journalists bit early.

But don't worry, Chiu also has Big Soda covered. Big Soda gave big dollars to a number of groups who supported both Chiu and No on E: $10,000 in Big Soda money went to the Chinese American Democratic Club, $7,500 to the Black Young Democrats and $2,500 to the Asian Pacific Democratic Club

As far as the Milk Club's Temprano goes, he punted questions to Laura Thomas, co-president of the club. The Milk Club endorses based on a vote of its members, she said, not the executive board. She also noted, "[Derse and Chiu are] not complaining about those other groups (that took beverage industry money)."

click to enlarge nick_p_campos.png

Above, Nick Panagopoulos' Facebook page shows he supports David Campos for Assembly. Panagopoulos works for BMWL, one of the main Public Relations firms paid by the American Beverage Association. 

The Milk Club, though, is a special case.

The political group branded with LGBT hero Harvey Milk's name has a longstanding progressive history of standing up for the little guy. In decades past, the Milk Club and the San Francisco Bay Guardian were major pillars of progressive voting, and taking their slate cards to the polls was a guarantee you were afflicting the comfortable, and comforting the afflicted. This traditionally has not meant supporting deep pocketed corporations. 

Thusly, the club's endorsements carried weight. Now that's changed, Jeff Sheehy, a past president of the Milk Club, told us. 

"It makes me sick to my stomach to see the Milk Club's No on E endorsement on TV ads," Sheehy said, who endorsed Chiu. "Obviously the Milk Club was up for sale."

And, Sheehy noted, children are the one who take the brunt of adults' choice to not regulate sodas. Defending its No on E endorsement, the Milk Club said it was "politically tone deaf" to raise taxes in the midst of an affordability crisis. But Sheehy said its politically tone deaf to allow children to become ill from sugar

As John Diaz of the Chronicle wrote about last Sunday

"The Yes on E campaign could not have brought in a more compelling witness than (doctor) Schillinger, who not only walked through the science of the effects of these sugar-laden drinks, he provided firsthand testimony of their effect on his patients.

He described how the erstwhile “AIDS ward” at San Francisco General Hospital was now filled with diabetes patients who are losing limbs at young ages. He spoke of the impact on the young people he treats, many of whom are low-income minorities.

His calm but riveting, fact-enriched testimony made a mockery of the No on E campaign’s attempt to cast the tax as unfair to the poor."
This rings especially true for Sheehy, who is HIV-positive. Knowing the AIDS ward is now filled with ailing children fills him with rage. 

Those kids, "used to be who the Milk Club stood up for," Sheehy said. So in the race to see who can sell out fastest, Sheehy thinks the Milk Club has won — because it had so much more to lose.

Clarification: This post has been updated to reflect information not earlier included, namely, the Milk Club makes endorsements based on a vote of its members.

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