Californians Against Food and Beverage Taxes

In 2009, the American Beverage Association approached the partners of Redwood Pacific Public Affairs with a challenge. The weakened economy left state and local governments looking for ways to fill budget gaps. At the same time, the health community was drawing more and more attention to the national and statewide obesity epidemic. This left the soda industry as prime targets for so-called “fat taxes” as a possible revenue stream.

There were already efforts underway to fight food and beverage taxes on the federal level and throughout more than a dozen states. RPPA coordinated with the national effort and created a California coalition, Californians Against Food and Beverage Taxes (CAFBT).

During the 2009-2010 legislative session, three pieces of legislation were introduced in California to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. CAFBT initially recruited hundreds of supporters throughout the state, including organizations whose leaders and members could serve effectively as spokespeople for the coalition in the press and as messengers to key legislators. The California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Market Association and California Retailers Association took lead roles in this regard.

The grassroots and earned media strategy executed in California allowed us to activate our members over the course of 2010 for various events throughout the state, including legislative and informational hearings and in-district events at various industry locations in key districts, which allowed us to have a strong presence in these districts.  The partners of RPPA coordinated CAFBT’s presence at all these events, and consistently delivered over a dozen individuals who represented the diversity of our coalition to speak to the impact of the taxes.  Our message was clear, “new taxes will only further damage our economy and we cannot afford to lose more jobs.” Through its website, CAFBT was also able to generate over 3,000 letters from individuals throughout California to the Legislature reinforcing our anti-tax messages.

Ultimately, the coalition grew to over 16,000 small businesses, consumers and organizations statewide. The significant interest that CAFBT generated throughout the state led to a successful effort on opposing higher taxes on food and beverages, all three bills were held in committee.