How Big Soda Co-Opted the NAACP and Hispanic Federation

Bloomberg Moves To Ban Sugary Drinks In NYC Restaurants And Movie Theaters

If you want a prime example of how Big Soda successfully uses its “philanthropy” (e.g., deep-pockets) to silence potential critics, look at the embarrassing mess in which the storied NAACP and the Hispanic Federation now find themselves embroiled.

Both of these organizations have close ties to and receive funding from the soda industry.  Yet both neglected to mention their financial ties to Big Soda when they spoke out against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 16 ounce sugary drink portion cap and when they filed an amicus brief in support of a soda industry lawsuit to halt the measure. The cap, which was approved by the New York City Board of Health in September 2012, is scheduled to be implemented in April, 2013.

Just how close are the ties between Big Soda and the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation? A simple search uncovered the following:

NAACP: 

-       In both 2011 and 2012, the Coca-Cola Foundation awarded the NAACP $100,000 for Project H.E.L.P. (Healthy Eating, Lifestyle Change and Physical Activity).

-       In 2011, the Coca-Cola Foundation granted $35,000 to the NAACP New York State Conference for their education initiatives.

-       Coca-Cola and Pepsico were sponsors of the 2011 NAACP New York State Conference 75th Annual Convention.

-       Pepsi was recognized with an NAACP Award in 2010.

-       PepsiCo’s website says it is working with the NAACP to advance national leadership and grassroots activism.

-       NAACP received a Pepsi corporate contribution for “education and inclusion in 2010.

-       Putting it all in perspective, a 2011 article in Houston Style Magazine reports that since 1986, the Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded a total of $2.1 million to the NAACP, including over $490,000 to various local chapters, $578,000 to the National Chapter for Annual National Conference Sponsorship, $500,000 for the Legal Defense Fund and $522,000 for the Atlanta chapter.

The Hispanic Federation:

-       The Coca-Cola Company is listed as a funder on the Hispanic Federation website.

-       Coca-Cola and the Hispanic Federation teamed up in 2011 in NYC to “fight hunger.”

-       In 2011 Coca-Cola joined with the Hispanic Federation to sponsor an event to get the Bronx “up and moving.”

-       In 2012, Hispanic Foundation President Lillian Rodriguez Lopez left to assume a new position with the Coca-Cola Company.

-       Coca-Cola was a sponsor of a two-day 2012 economic opportunity event in New York City hosted by the New York State Senate and the Hispanic Federation — the second annual Unidad Latina.

Another curious link? The law firm that wrote and filed the joint amicus brief for the Hispanic Federation and the NAACP is Coca-Cola’s law firm. Perhaps that’s why some of the arguments and even the phrasing in the brief are similar to what we’ve been hearing from Big Soda for years.  Some examples (my comments are in italics):

  •  “The Ban threatens to yield adverse economic impact for small business.” Threats of job loss and economic woes have been the backbone of industry’s anti-soda tax arguments for years.
  • “At its worst, the Ban arbitrarily discriminates against citizens and small business owners in African-American and Hispanic communities.”  To avoid higher taxes and regulation, the tobacco industry used similar rhetoric about discrimination against minorities. Big Soda has picked up where Big Tobacco left off using the discrimination argument during soda tax/cap debates.
  • “The ban is a slippery slope towards government-mandated regulations that curtail consumer choice.”  The old industry slippery slope/personal responsibility mantra.
  • “… our emphasis and efforts should be targeted at addressing the issue more comprehensively including through education and community programs…”  More of the standard Big Soda BS. Studies have shown that environmental change is the key to healthy communities, not education or programs.
  • “The decision to ignore the need for increased public school physical education and health…fails to provide a comprehensive solution to address the obesity epidemic in our country.”  Big Soda loves to pin the blame for obesity on a lack of physical activity. But studies have consistently shown that physical activity levels haven’t changed much in decades, while sugary drink consumption has skyrocketed, along with the obesity rate.

It seems unconscionable that the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and the Hispanic Federation, whose mission is “to empower and advance the Hispanic community,” are supporting Big Soda rather than their constituents’ health – particularly when their communities have been disproportionately impacted by obesity and related chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, asthma and certain cancers.  Making matters worse, youth in these communities have been disproportionately targeted by Big Soda advertising according to a report by the Yale Rudd Center.  For example, from 2008-2010 Hispanic children saw 49% more ads and teens saw 99% more ads on Spanish language TV for sugary drinks and energy drinks. Black children and teens saw 80 percent to 90 percent more ads compared with white youth, including more than twice as many ads for Sprite, Mountain Dew, 5-hour Energy, and Vitamin Water.

Of course, the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are not the only non-profit organizations whose policy decisions have been called on the carpet in light of their “partnerships” and funding from Big Soda. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, Save the Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Family Physicians have all taken funding from the soda industry and should be continually scrutinized. Public health attorney Michele Simon’s damning report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s Big Food sponsors was just released this week.

Because the NAACP and Hispanic Federation failed to reveal their financial ties to the soda industry, while publicly opposing the NYC sugary drink portion cap, their credibility has taken a major hit. The question that their leadership should be asking is this:  Can we effectively represent our constituents’ best interests in this era of rampant chronic disease and obesity, while continuing to accept Big Soda funding?

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