New York Times campaign finance reporter Nicholas Confessore's 2,000-word front-page story Wednesday took a liberal angle on a judge striking down New York City's controversial new regulation that would have banned soda portions over 16 ounces. Besides the paternalism of lines like "a victory for the industry’s steadfast, if surprising, allies: advocacy groups representing the very communities hit hardest by the obesity epidemic," Confessore hinted at a quid pro quo involving donations from the beverage industry going to black and Hispanic non-profits, which in turn parroted the industry talking points against the regulation.
The decision by a New York State judge striking down the Bloomberg administration’s ban on large, sugary drinks this week was not just a high-profile victory for the soda companies in their pitched battle against anti-obesity policies that are aimed at their products. It was also a victory for the industry’s steadfast, if surprising, allies: advocacy groups representing the very communities hit hardest by the obesity epidemic.
Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years, arguing that such measures -- perhaps the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced -- are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective.
Many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry that has flowed to nonprofit and educational organizations serving blacks and Hispanics over the last decade, according to a review by The New York Times of charity records and other documents.
Soda companies have sponsored conferences for the National Hispana Leadership Institute, scholarships for local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, financial literacy classes offered by the National Puerto Rican Coalition and programs from the National Hispanic Medical Association.
These connections came to the fore recently when the New York chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., along with the Hispanic Federation, a coalition of Hispanic community service agencies in the New York area, filed an amicus brief in support of the beverage industry’s effort to block Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal for a citywide ban on large, sugary beverages. The judge ruled on Monday that the limits would be “arbitrary and capricious” because they would apply unequally to some establishments and to different kinds of sugary beverages.
The black and Hispanic groups were not the only liberal groups against Bloomberg: Petitioners to the suit include the Soda and Brewery Workers Union and the local Teamsters.
The two groups that opposed the New York ban -- both of which have received grants or sponsorship dollars from Coca-Cola or PepsiCo -- argued that the regulations unfairly discriminated against bodegas and other small neighborhood stores while leaving supermarkets and other retailers exempt.
In many cases, the financial relationships between soda companies and nonprofit groups go back decades, stemming from the industry’s early embrace of the civil rights movement. But as battles over soda taxes have broken out around the country in recent years, advocates for tighter regulation argue, the money has effectively muzzled organizations that might otherwise be on the side of regulation.
For nonprofit groups, especially those serving low-income communities, corporate grants and sponsorships can be a financial lifeline, underwriting programs, conferences and research. And as community groups serving blacks and Latinos try to tackle rising rates of obesity, many of them have chosen to team up with soda manufacturers and other food companies. Their preferred solutions often reflect those favored by the beverage industry: calorie labeling, nutritional education and expanded exercise programs.
This isn't the only case of the Times showing a paternalism toward minorities. A weird story by reporter Andrew Martin from July 2007 actually bashed McDonald's for advertising a new giant soft drink in several languages: "Making matters worse, Hugo ads are available in several languages, making sure that minorities -- who are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic -- are aware of the budget beverage."