As a doctor and a public health advocate, I have been fighting the tobacco and soda industries for years to pass smart policies that will improve the health of our communities. On Nov. 8, San Franciscans will vote on a soda tax, which the soda industry is fighting vehemently with millions of dollars spent so far. But the soda industry is also using this money to play the long game, looking farther down the road than just this election.
To that point, San Francisco voters recently received two mailings from an organization called the Affordable Housing Alliance, both prominently featuring Jane Kim for state Senate. At first, this would seem to have nothing to do with the soda industry.
What voters don’t know — and would never know without digging through the labyrinth of campaign finance filings — is that the Affordable Housing Alliance has been entirely funded by the American Beverage Association to the tune of $180,000 and counting. The American Beverage Association is funded by soda companies Coca Cola and Pepsi, two of the world’s largest corporations.
The first campaign mailer from the Affordable Housing Alliance, which, although entirely funded by the soda industry, prominently features Kim and barely mentions opposition to the soda tax.
The logical next question is why does the soda industry — a multibillion dollar international corporate conglomerate — care about a local San Francisco housing organization? And why would a soda industry-funded mailer barely mention the soda tax while prominently featuring Kim?
The answer is that Kim opposes the soda tax on the November ballot, and she opposed it two years ago. (She even opposes cigarette taxes.) Kim regularly parrots soda industry talking points. If Kim is elected, the soda industry will have an ally in the state Senate to help the industry defeat attempts by health, education and children’s advocates to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, resulting in healthier communities yet reduced corporate profits. Having a state senator from progressive San Francisco who opposes soda taxes would be a huge win for these corporations as they fight to stop soda taxes from going into effect statewide, and across the country.
Kim’s opponent in the state Senate race, Scott Wiener, co-authored both the 2014 and 2016 soda tax and has authored legislation to require health warnings on soda advertisements, which the industry is currently suing in court. Wiener is the soda industry’s worst nightmare, since he will put community health over corporate profits.
How did the soda industry find this slate mailer organization to fund and to benefit Kim? The nexus is Eric Jaye, the political consultant to both Kim and the soda industry.
Jaye, who has made huge commissions from the soda industry so far this election cycle, is looking for vehicles to promote Kim that don’t cost her campaign a dime.
As the soda industry consultant, Jaye was able to direct $180,000 of this corporate money to the Affordable Housing Alliance and arranged for the organization to feature Kim on the mailer. Since the soda industry is the only organization funding the Affordable Housing Alliance, they will feature whatever Jaye wants them to feature.
The soda industry and Jaye count on the fact that campaign finance reports are confusing, and hope that no one will find out the truth about the industry and its support of Kim.
Unfortunately, this situation isn’t the first of its kind for Kim and won’t be the last. PG&E — another Jaye client — financially supported Kim in the June primary. The Tenant’s Union has accepted a significant soda industry contribution and made robo calls supporting Kim.
As a public health advocate, it is disappointing when elected officials oppose smart polices like soda taxes. It’s even worse when these officials take money from the industry that is making our kids sick. Our community’s health, not corporate profits, must come first. Jane Kim is not who she says she is.
John Maa is the secretary of the San Francisco Medical Society and a physician active in public health policy around tobacco and sugary drinks. He is active in the American Heart Association and California Medical Association. The views expressed here are his own.