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The Soda Tax May Be the Biggest Fight on the November Ballot

Scott Lucas | August 26, 2014 | Story Politics

A proposal to put a 2 cents per ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages sold in the city could end up being the most contentious fight on the ballot this fall.

End up? Who are we kidding. It already seems to be. Late last week, billboards from the No on E campaign went up starring the Fizzary's Taylor Peck. He's the co-owner of the soda store in the Mission and Haight that could be hit hard by a tax. Using a hip local store as a poster child is also a pretty smart way to camouflage the interests of larger soda companies, like Coke and Pepsi. It's not quite astroturfing—Peck's a real person with a legitimate point of view, after all—but it is a good case of grasstopping. To see a big ad buy like the billboards—of which we've spotted three in Jackson Square and North Beach—is an indication of much more money to come.

And money's at the heart of two more soda tax related controversies. The Yes of E campaign has just filed complaints with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and the San Francisco Ethics Commission against the No on E campaign, alleging that they have failed to publicly disclose campaign contributions and have violated the law requiring them to state the source of donations of their ads. Behind the complaints is an attempt to tie the soda industry more directly to opposition to the tax. In a statement, Maggie Muir, a consultant for the Yes on E campaign, said, “Clearly the American Beverage Association is trying to hide the money they are spending.”

The other major flare unfolded when the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, an influential progressive political organization in the city, voted to oppose raising the tax. The Chronicle reported on Sunday that in part the move was in opposition to what club co-president Tom Temprano characterizes as a regressive tax, but the soda industry also recently forked over $5,000 to sponsor a table at the club's recent fundraising dinner. Supporters of the tax have alleged that the vote in opposition may have been part of a play to raise money for the club's endorsement slate cards, which will also be supporting David Campos, who trails his opponent David Chiu in fundraising. The Bay Guardian is downplaying the rumor, and Temprano is changing the subject.

The point being this: This is a lot of drama for a relatively modest measure—and it isn't even Labor Day yet.

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