Beverage Lobby Spends Whopping $700K on Last-Minute Ad Blitz Against Soda Tax

Council is all but guaranteed to pass the soda tax. So why is the industry still spending big bucks?
Screenshot of the American Beverage Association ad

Screenshot of the new American Beverage Association ad

City Council is expected to approve a tax on sugary drinks and diet beverages Thursday, making Philadelphia the biggest city in the country with a soda tax and giving Mayor Jim Kenney a major first-term victory. Lawmakers preliminarily approved the tax last week; since then, Council President Darrell Clarke and others have penned an op-ed in favor of the levy.

In other words, the fight appears to be done. Well-done. If the soda tax battle were a burger, it would be overcooked. But that isn’t stopping the soda industry from spending boatloads of cash.

The American Beverage Association is paying $700,000 to flood the airwaves with a new anti-soda tax advertisement between June 14th and June 16th. That’s an enormous sum for such a short period of time. For the sake of comparison, the ABA has spent a total of $4.9 million on ads since March (including this one), and the pro-tax coalition Philadelphians for a Fair Future has spent $1.4 million on commercials.

(These figures were compiled by Snyder Pickerill Media Group’s Ken Snyder, who is working for PFF. Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the ABA-funded Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax, did not dispute the numbers.)

Why would the ABA spend hundreds of thousands of dollars after it lost the battle? “We felt the need to bring transparency to a budget process that was marked by shocking eleventh-hour disclosures,” said Campisi. “The people of Philadelphia deserve to know that less than half of the money from this tax in the first several years is designated to go to the pre-K programs Mayor Kenney has been talking about for months.”

I’d wager there’s more to it than that. Perhaps this is simply a way to punish Kenney and City Council members. Or maybe it’s intended to build public opposition to the tax, either in hopes of hurting officials in the 2019 election or influencing the outcome of the lawsuit the soda industry is expected to file challenging the tax.

The ABA’s ad claims that Kenney has “pulled a bait-and-switch” on lawmakers by not telling them until the last minute that the soda tax would help prop up the city’s fund balance in addition to paying for pre-K and other programs. The Kenney administration disagrees with that interpretation of events. Watch the commercial below:

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