By Alex Morrell October 1, 2012
When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas at restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums last summer, Coca-Cola and Pepsi began pouring money into a million-dollar advertising campaign to rally support against it. That campaign failed. The Board of Health passed the measure in September, and it will go into effect in March.
For Big Soda, that is not usually the way it goes. The industry has spent a small fortune to sway policy decisions at the national, state and local levels, and it has had success. Soda tax initiatives have stalled in at least 30 states over the last several years, as well as in major cities like Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Now, as other cities consider their own soda bans, the beverage industry could ramp up its spending at the municipal level.
For business journalists who cover large industries, tracking how much money is spent on such campaigns is critical to keeping a readership informed about how corporations can influence federal, state or local government. Here are a few tips on how to keep score.
Start in Washington
Big companies spend the most on lobbying at the national level because federal laws can have a huge impact on their balance sheets. To get a broad view of a company’s activities, start with online databases like opensecrets.org or influenceexplorer.com. These sites track corporate spending in Washington and organize their data by company and industry over time. For instance, using opensecrets.org, we can see that Coca-Cola has spent $1.86 million in national political contributions in 2012 and another $2.84 million on lobbying. Pepsi has spent $715,257 and $1.65 million, respectively.
We can also see that 2009 was a record year for the food and beverage companies with more than $57 million spent on lobbying – $18.9 million from the American Beverage Association, $12.4 million from Coca-Cola and $9.4 million from Pepsi. The Center for Responsive Politics, which runs opensecrets.org, notes the spending boom largely stemmed from a soda tax proposed to help pay for the national healthcare overhaul. The tax failed to pass.
Drill Down to a Single Issue
Opensecrets.org also tracks the issues, agencies and bills companies are lobbying in Washington. These figures can offer readers a sense of how important any given issue is to a company. (Take a look at how much Coca-Cola spends on lobbying to oppose policies that restrict beverage size.) They can also help reporters generate story ideas. Note, for example, that Coke is advocating to normalize trade relations with Russia. Coca-Cola is among more than 125 corporations who are banking on an improved trade partnership with Russia to boost their sales. It plans to invest $3 billion there through 2016.
Lobbying and campaign disclosure laws vary by state, but many have election, accountability or ethics boards that maintain readily available records. Using New York’s online lobbying database, for example, it’s easy to find that the American Beverage Association spent nearly $13 million in 2010 to beat back soda tax legislation.
The National Institute on Money in Politics, a nonpartisan group based in Helena, Montana, compiles state data on corporate contributions to politicians and parties and publishes it on followthemoney.org. Using their database, we can see that Pepsi and its subsidiaries spread $356,756 in contributions over 25 states in 2012, including $20,000 this summer to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Tracking spending on a municipal level can be difficult because cities vary in size, policy and record-keeping ability. However, some large cities maintain their own records. New York City has a handy lobbying database, where we can see Pepsi spent $45,000 this year to keep tabs on the mayor’s office. In smaller cities, if a company begins fueling money into a local campaign, the city clerk’s office will likely carry required disclosure documents.
This entry was posted on Monday, October 1st, 2012 at 4:48 am. It is filed under Skills and Tradecraft and tagged with Coca-Cola, Corporate America, government, lobbying, Pepsi, soda tax, tax. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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