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Monday, March 4, 2024

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News + PoliticsTech money and soda money

Tech money and soda money

The reality behind the sleazy money in the local election

I just got a Facebook ad promoting Josh Arce for supervisor in District Nine. I suspect if you live in D1, D9, or D11 you’re getting similar ads for Ahsha Safai and Marjan Philhour.

The ad says it was paid for by the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club. I’m not sure Bobby Kennedy would be happy with what’s happening in his name.

This video was paid for by Big Tech money.
This video was paid for by Big Tech money.

Because this isn’t a liberal organization. It’s a front for a huge sum of Big Tech money, $400,000 and counting.

Most of the funding for the RFK Club, according to filings with the SF Ethics Commission (look it up yourself, sfethics.org) comes from Progress San Francisco. You have to go to the Secretary of State website (sos.ca.gov) to get the full list of that group’s funders.

They include:

Airbnb, Facebook, Ron Conway, the head of Medium, the head of LinkedIn, Google … you get the idea.

I wrote yesterday about why Big Tech wants to control SF politics. The RFK Club is funneling Big Tech’s money into these ads in local races, hoping you will be confused.


Speaking of confused: Scott Wiener has gone to new lows, not only putting out a mailer with a Bay Guardian cover and a truncated (and thus inaccurate) quote from the late Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen – now he’s doing a doorhanger that makes it look as if he has the Guardian endorsement.

He does not.

This is shameless.

No, this is not a Bay Guardian endorsement. It's a fake.
No, this is not a Bay Guardian endorsement. It’s a fake.


I am also seeing ads attacking candidates (including Jane Kim and Sandra Lee Fewer) for taking Big Soda money.

I’m not a fan of Big Soda. I have two teenage kids. I hate this shit, and I think it should be controlled like cigarettes (nobody under 18 should be allowed to buy it). The Bay Guardian supports the soda tax.

I also respect progressives who disagree — this isn’t an easy call. A soda tax is seriously regressive. The Harvey Milk Club has always opposed soda taxes, and so has Jane Kim. This is not an issue where the left is in agreement, and the people on both sides have honest principled positions.

But I’m trying to track all the Big Soda money, too, and what I’m finding is that there’s a lot of it going to slate cards. Pretty much every slate card from a group that came out against Prop. V got money from the soda industry to pay for printing and distributing it. That includes the Affordable Housing Alliance ($100,000) –  as well as the Republican Party($5,000, but there aren’t a lot of Republicans to mail to).

The Milk Club got $25,000, so if you hear that “millions” have gone to that organization: No. The club got about what it costs to print and mail a slate to Milk’s primary constituency.

 The Milk Club had an endorsement meeting with people from both sides making their cases, and the members voted No on V.  It’s pretty common for slate mailers to get paid for by he candidates and propositions they support (or oppose).

But soda money is not just going to slates that support Kim. The District Two Democratic Club got Big Soda money ($7,500) and supports Wiener. Women for Common Sense got $12,500, and endorsed Wiener. The Asian Pacific Democratic Club got $12,500, and supports Wiener. It appears Big Soda doesn’t really care what candidates the slates are supporting, as long as they are No on V.

Since Kim has always been against soda taxes (and other sales-based taxes that she says, correctly, are regressive), the industry, Wiener’s campaign says, is looking for an ally in Sacramento.

Truth is, I fear the state Legislature is a long, long way from ever taxing soda. Sad to say, I suspect Jane Kim or Scott Wiener will be long termed out before that happens.

No: This is going to come from cities, the same way so many other progressive causes start in cities, and what Big Soda wants is to stop Prop. V from passing. So: The money goes to local slate cards that are No on V (apparently, no matter who or what else they are endorsing).

I agree that the Affordable Housing Alliance got a lot of cash (but not nearly as much as Big Tech is throwing around), all of which, AHA founder Mitchell Omerberg told me, has gone for slate mailers. AHA sent out a lot of slate mailers supporting tenant-friendly candidates (you can see the slate here). Some of these candidates support the soda tax and some oppose it. AHA is against it, though, so the industry is apparently fine with funding those mailers.

And almost all the soda money has gone to existing, reputable groups with real constituencies. The Big Tech money is going to phony groups with names like San Franciscans for a City That Works, which exists only to funnel big money to conservative candidates who the industry is convinced will protect its interests.

In one of the stranger episodes, Sandy Fewer is getting attacked for taking soda money — but she’s YES on V, voted in favor of the tax at the DCCC and has supported it in the past. Slate cards supporting her main opponent, Marjan Philhour, are also getting soda money.

It’s a little different for the main advocate for the soda tax, Michael Bloomberg. He’s got two big issues in California – he wants soda taxes, and he wants charter schools.

Kim, to her credit, has a lot of problems with charter schools. So do I. And the charter school folks are pouring – pouring – money into supporting Wiener.

Bloomberg has given $350,000 to the California Charter Schools Association. The California Charter Schools Association has laundered $138,000 through Equality California to support Wiener. The Bloomberg-funded group has also put $106,000 into the “We Can’t Trust Jane Kim” attack-ad fund, state records show. (Go look this stuff up at sos.ca.gov. It’s enough to make you sick.)

That and the Big Tech money dwarfs anything the soda industry is giving to local slates. Most of the Big Soda money (and there’s a lot of it) is going to direct No on V mailers and ads.

And I suspect that most of the Bloomberg money is going to Wiener because Bloomberg thinks he’ll support charter schools, not because of the soda tax.

Worth noting.

(FYI, 48hills has not received any money from the soda industry or from Michael Bloomberg.)


48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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