Beverage trade association pumps $1.4 million into campaign against ‘soda tax’

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Ariel D. Hayat/Staff

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A beverage trade association funneled $600,000 last week into a local campaign against a proposed city tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, bringing its total contributions to $1.4 million.

Less than a month remains until Berkeley voters will decide the fate of Measure D, also known colloquially as a “soda tax,” which would instate a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages. Amid efforts by both camps, those opposing the tax have accused Yes on D of being involved with the alleged theft of numerous No on D signs.

The American Beverage Association’s political action committee has donated what may be the largest amount of money to a campaign in Berkeley history, according to City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who supports the proposed tax. The Yes on D campaign, which calls itself a grassroots effort, works with approximately $85,000 in contributions.

Meanwhile, Leon Cain, field director for the No on D campaign, said he noticed his campaign signs were disappearing soon after his team posted them. In an effort to find out where they went, he waited with his cellphone and caught several people purportedly stealing his signs.

He then sent the video, which included footage of one man allegedly pushing Cain when confronted about the sign theft, to ABC7 News. The man told ABC7 that he was neither for nor against the measure but wanted to remove them because he considered them a blight in his neighborhood.

Cain previously filed a lawsuit saying the ballot initiative contained biased language. The judge ruled that the council should reword some of the ballot’s language.

In Berkeley, campaign signs are not allowed on wooden utility poles, curbs or median strips. Temporary signs are allowed on city-owned metal utility poles, but they must be removed within 15 days of the election.

“This fits into a pattern of bullying in their (Yes on D) campaign from day one,” Cain said. “There’s no way these signs go up and are within half an hour taken down without some coordination. I don’t think this is some sort of coincidence.”

Josh Daniels, who is co-chair of the Yes on D campaign and president of the Berkeley Unified School District’s board, said the No on D campaign was consistently placing signs illegally in certain areas. The city sent No on D a cease-and-desist letter to stop placing signs in such areas, according to Sara Soka, a campaign manager for Yes on D.

The Yes on D campaign recently sent an email to volunteers urging them not to remove signs and instead report them if they are posted in areas illegally. The campaign maintains that no one associated with Yes on D stole the signs.

According to Arreguin, the disappearance of signs “happens every single election” and is not a big issue.

Both sides of the campaign and council members, however, said the signs have become a distraction from discussing the tax itself, which is set to be voted Nov. 4 by Berkeley residents.

“A lot of times politics brings out hyperbole; people sort of make these dramatic statements,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Like most things in politics, it won’t be as dramatic as either side makes it out to be.”

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected]ailycal.org and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.

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