Weeks before negotiating a lucrative deal to ban new local taxes on soda and other sugary drinks in California for more than a decade, top representatives for the beverage industry met with Gov. Jerry Brown for a private dinner at the governor's mansion.
Since it emerged over the weekend, public health advocates behind a growing movement to tax sugary drinks have decried the deal, which bans cities and counties from creating taxes on "groceries" through 2030, as a cynical ploy to protect the profits of soda companies. Some have pointed to the June 6 meeting with Brown as evidence of the beverage industry's undue influence at the Capitol, where it has blocked bills to tax or put warning labels on sugary drinks for years.
In a photo taken at the governor's mansion following the dinner and obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, pose around a staircase with representatives from the beverage industry, including Kevin Keane, the American Beverage Association's executive vice president of government and public affairs; Fredericka McGhee, who oversees its lobbying operations in California; Lupe De La Cruz, who manages Pepsi's political activities in the western United States; and Nancy Limon, a Los Angeles-based director of public affairs for Coca-Cola. The photographer and others in the photograph remain unidentified.
"Here we have a great example of how special interests rule the day," said Larry Tramutola, a political strategist who worked on successful soda tax campaigns in Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland over the past two election cycles.
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Tramutola noted that public health groups that support the taxes had not received a similar invitation to the governor's mansion. He called the deal "slimy, despicable politics, no matter who's involved with it."
Both the Governor's Office and the American Beverage Association said their meeting had nothing to do with the deal, which was negotiated with organized labor to remove from the November ballot an initiative, primarily funded by soda companies, that would make it harder to raise state and local taxes.
"Discussions on this legislative proposal started only a few days ago and came together over the weekend between the two sides," the American Beverage Association said in a statement. "The proposal had nothing to do with the dinner.”
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup wrote in an email that the "deal was not negotiated by the governor and the meeting you reference was not related," but declined to answer further questions about the reason for the dinner and whether Brown supports the soda tax moratorium.