Latino Caucus May Hold Key to Battle Between Soda Industry, Health Advocates


Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

May 11, 2017 -- The soda industry’s deep pockets are a well-known hurdle to taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, but a new MapLight analysis suggests the industry may be directing significant amounts of money to an unexpected faction of the California Legislature: its all-Democratic Latino Caucus.

Soda Industry Contributions:

  • Current members of the Latino Caucus make up less than 23 percent of the California Legislature but received 42 percent of soda industry contributions during the 2015 election cycle.
  • The soda industry gave, on average, nearly twice as much money to members of the Latino Caucus ($5,198) than the average member of the State Legislature ($2,770) in the 2015 election cycle.

  • Four of the top five recipients of soda industry contributions are members of the Latino Caucus. They received a total of $63,697 from the soda industry in the 2015 election cycle.

Although voters in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany approved measures in November to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, many of the state’s elected officials don’t appear to share their enthusiasm. At least five bills to tax sugary beverages have been scrapped by state legislators since 2002. The most recent bill to receive a vote was introduced in the California Assembly in 2015 by Reps. Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica; David Chiu, D-San Francisco; and Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate. Rendon, the Assembly speaker, is the only sponsor who’s a member of the Latino Caucus.

Voting Outcomes:

  • The soda industry gave, on average, 2.3 times as much money to Assembly Health Committee members that voted against or abstained on the proposed tax ($6,197) as it donated to members who voted for the proposal ($2,723).

  • Three Latino Caucus members on the Assembly Health Committee abstained from voting; they received an average of $15,963 from the soda industry. All three are among the top five recipients of soda industry money in the state legislature.

  • Former Latino Caucus member Rep. Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, and Rep. Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, currently vice Chair of the caucus, both voted against the tax. Neither received contributions from the soda industry.

  • Even though he sponsored the soda tax bill, Rendon was also among the top five recipients of money from the soda industry. Meanwhile, Rep. Tony Thurmond, a Richmond Democrat and the only Latino Caucus member to vote for the soda tax, received no money from the industry. Thurmond’s district includes Berkeley and Albany, which both approved municipal sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.

 In a 2013 Field Poll, California Latinos were more likely than any other ethnic group to support a soda tax at the ballot box, particularly if funds were used to combat obesity. University of California, San Francisco researchers concluded in a 2012 study that a statewide soda tax would be most beneficial to Mexican-Americans, who tend to be at higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Bloom introduced another soda tax bill earlier this year. The measure would direct funds “to diminish the human and economic costs of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and dental disease in California.” The bill was tabled for interim study for the remainder of the year.

Methodology: MapLight analysis of campaign contributions from the American Beverage Association, California Nevada Beverage Association, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper Snapple to candidate committees during the 2015-2016 election cycle. Contributor figures are based on itemized records, aggregated by employer or affiliate organization. All numbers are based on latest data made available by the California Secretary of State as of April 16, 2017.

About MapLight:
MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics. More information about MapLight can be found here.

Media Contact:
Alec Saslow
t: (720) 319-4948
e: alec@maplight.org