Because of incorrect information in a campaign finance filing, a story in the Local News section incorrectly reported for the most recent filing period the name of the biggest contributor supporting the Richmond ballot measure that would tax sugar-sweetened beverages. John and Laura Arnold, not their foundation, contributed $20,000 to the Measure N campaign on Oct. 19.
RICHMOND -- Campaign finance reports submitted late Thursday show that $2.48 million has been spent in recent months to try to defeat a ballot measure here to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.
Measure N will be on the Nov. 6 ballot, and Richmond voters could be the first in the nation to impose a penny-per-ounce tax on businesses that sell soda and other sugary drinks.
The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, a campaign expenditure group funded by the American Beverage Association, reported the new spending total, up nearly $300,000 from earlier this month.
The Fit for Life campaign, which supports Measure N, picked up some fundraising steam, too, drawing $29,362 in donations between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20. The new contributions mean the pro-tax campaign has collected $69,078 to date and spent $42,032, mostly on advertising and a few rallies.
The biggest pro-Measure N contributor in the recent filing was John Arnold, a philanthropist and retired energy trader, and his wife. The Arnolds gave Fit for Life $20,000 on Oct. 19, according to campaign filings.
The beverage industry-backed anti-tax group has a 50-1 spending advantage.
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a retired cardiologist and the leading voice calling for taxes to curb consumption of sugary drinks, said the spending onslaught by the beverage industry has strengthened the resolve of supporters.
"Money doesn't talk; it swears," Ritterman said. "We need Richmond to be a people's democracy that takes care of the people, not a place dominated by big corporations like Coke and Pepsi."
The largest beneficiary of ABA money has been Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, the San Francisco-based public relations firm hired to run the anti-Measure N campaign, dubbed the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes.
"Our campaign spending is focused on educating voters about how this flawed and regressive tax would increase the grocery bills of Richmond families -- whether they drink soda or not -- and would hurt local businesses by driving away customers," spokesman Chuck Finnie said in a prepared statement earlier Thursday.
The beverage tax has been a divisive issue in the community, as leaders and the public have been split over the wisdom of the tax and its likely effectiveness.