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Sunday, July 25, 2021

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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.)


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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  1. Thanks for helping expose how big money corrupts our political process. Also of note: Big Soda spending right now beats all other spending on all other propositions, if what I recently heard is correct. More than 20 million spent against Prop V to protect Soda profits– only some of it for local political clubs, the rest on ads and other forms of messaging. I think you’re generous in your description of folks on the left siding against a Soda Tax as regressive. The premise for that kind of thinking is that we’re doing poor people a favor by keeping it cheap, or that we’re better off waiting for the feds to tax the manufacturer. We also have to accept that if folks are standing up against a Soda Tax AND taking money from Soda Corporations, they don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact those corporations target youth of color specifically with their marketing, AND they don’t believe WHO, IOM, CDC, or any of the world renown scientists telling us it’s a product that’s harmful to our health. I would have an easier time believing some of that, if those same politicians weren’t getting five and six figure contributions from the Soda Corporations. With Congress deep in the pockets of Soda Corporations, we can’t wait for them to change policy. SF led the way with Sanctuary City– not waiting for immigration reform. SF led the way with Gay Marriage– not waiting for the White House or Congress to act. Similarly, we need SF to stand up to the Soda corporations. If lefty folks want to take a stand against a tax because they think it hurts poor people, then they should also take a principled stand and do it without accepting Soda $ for mailers. Otherwise, they sure look like their selling out the health of low-income communities of color for a political buck. I won’t call out specific politicians, because they’re often running against folks willing to take a tech or real estate buck– it’s a campaign financing problem on all sides of each race. As someone working to improve health in low-income communities of color in SF– communities where I was born and raised– I can tell you that making junk drinks less affordable is a good thing. And, I can assure you: I’ll be one of the people fighting to make sure the tax revenue gets invested in those communities that need it most, for better access to healthy food and trusted water sources, and better access to clean safe parks and PE in schools. And as someone doing that work, it pains me to hear folks complaining that a Soda Tax will hurt poor people. Folks in the TL, BVHP, Mission, Chinatown, Vis Valley, Excelsior, will all benefit from drinking less of that stuff, and will benefit from that money being invested in the Healthy Retail SF program, more water bottle filling stations in our communities, improved parks and PE in schools. The money will help pay for the education folks need about how harmful this stuff is to our health. I won’t argue Soda $ is worse than Tech or Real Estate $. I will simply say that the whole process is painful to watch, and really makes folks feel less enthused about electoral politics.

  2. I wouldn’t worry too much about tracking the soda money, or any money at this late stage. I would spend my time talking about the issues. That is the one thing we have had too little discussion on during this election cycle. Do you know which committees Jane or Scott is looking forward to getting on if elected in Sacramento? Neither do I because I forgot to ask, unlike the last time the David’s ran, and I did. How is Jane planning to help the tenants when she is elected and how is Wiener planning to support his constituents? Too bad I have only their records at City Hall to look at because I failed to ask.

  3. We shall see. We shall see. My goal is to fight apathy and cynicism so that residents and neighbors are once again engaged in their local communities. We are all active participants. It’s never too late to reform and rebuild!!!

  4. ….good luck with that…these groups do this for one reason only….it works…nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American voting public.

  5. Thanks be to Tim Redmond and anyone else who is attempting to make sense of the obscene & outrageous outside funding and the millions that are being dumped into our local election and district supervisor races!!! I can’t help but think that these accountable to no one entities deliberately stragetigized to give us all whiplash. A shock and awe attempt to own our civic democracy. We can only hope that this diabolical & callous attempt at buying our electeds and SF City Hall implodes and covers all of these creeps with fecal mattered cash.

  6. London Breed has flip flopped on the soda tax. Now she supports it, but only a little more than a month ago she was opposed to it. One would not know that based on Jacquelyn Omotalade’s editorial in the Examiner last week where she holds Breed up as a model of love, compassion, and health advocacy for black youth.

    She wrote:

    “An African-American supervisor, Cohen has proposed to tax soda for its health impact, and what is the progressive machine doing?

    “They are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from big soda corporations. The progressive “Affordable Housing Alliance” has so far received $180,000 from Coke and Pepsi’s lobbying arm, the American Beverage Association. The Tenants Union has taken in $70,000, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic club is taking thousands more.

    All of this soda money, earned on the backs of African Americans’ health, is funding campaign mailers for progressive supervisorial candidates and Jane Kim’s state Senate campaign against Scott Wiener, who rightly supports the tax.”


    I wonder how it was between Omotalade and Breed in September – back when Breed was on the same side as those that apparently have no concern for the health of African-American kids. (Nor, of course, do any of the small business owners in the mailers decrying “the grocery tax.).

  7. Good piece. Bloomberg is a poster child on why we need to get public financing. I don’t need a Manhattan billionaire telling me how to live.

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