I’m interested in the food industry primarily because of an interest in food safety and the environment. I’m not a Michael Pollan groupie, but when it comes to large corporations and consumers, I generally land on the side of the consumer.

My dual interest in the food industry and Clinton emails crossed recently with the release of hacked emails, these supposedly from the account of Capricia Marshall and released to a site known as DCLeaks. Marshall consulted with Coca-Cola, but has also worked on the Clinton campaign, as well as being the former US Chief of Protocol during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

A web site known as The Russels published what they felt was a close association between Hillary Clinton and Coca-Cola, as proven by one email interchange between Clinton staff workers and the company.

When Hillary Clinton supported Philadelphia’s soda tax this April, Latham and Marshall both played critical roles in Coca-Cola’s damage control. What follows is a case study in how corporations influence American politics through strings-attached donations and well-placed personnel.

First of all, we don’t know whether these emails have been modified or not, but for the sake of argument, we’ll say they’re legitimate. Do the emails imply that Clinton was influenced by a strings-attached donation by Coke?

Let’s go back into the news archives for the time in question. PhillyVoice wrote about Clinton’s support for the soda tax. It quotes a CNN article, which quoted Clinton:

It starts early with working with families, working with kids, building up community resources – I’m very supportive of the mayor’s proposal to tax soda to get universal pre-school for kids,” Clinton said. “I mean, we need universal pre-school. And if that’s a way to do it, that’s how we should do it.”

Clinton supported the tax for two reasons. One, the money was going to universal pre-school, which Clinton strongly supports. A second reason that isn’t covered in the articles is the fact that this was an important issue to Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney. She was helping a fellow Democrat get one in the win column.

Now, the Coca-Cola people can have all the tizzies it wants, but they had no influence on whether a broad support for soda taxes was going to be included in Clinton’s platform. The reason why is because soda taxes are a local issue, not a national one. Clinton’s support for this specific soda tax was for reasons unrelated to the support many of us have for soda taxes: because we want to reduce consumption of sugary drinks by the young folk. Not supporting the soda tax for the same reason doesn’t make Clinton pro-obesity, it doesn’t even make her beholden to the soda industry.

The email from Coca-Cola’s Katherine Rumbaugh, VP of Government Relations, published in a Forbes article by Nancy Fink Huehnergarth  that read:

[W]e’ve confirmed that there is no continued conversation around beverage taxes today and in future engagements – campaign is not going to drive conversation here or weigh in further,” Rumbaugh wrote. “Also, Jake Sullivan, [Clinton’s senior policy adviser], confirmed that they are not driving this from a policy POV. We’re also working on how to walk this back.

Is company executive speak for, “I earned the big bucks you pay me”.

Jake Sullivan confirmed that soda taxes were not going to be part of Clinton’s policy platform. Of course, they weren’t. As for the “walking back”, didn’t happen. Clinton stated she supported the Philadelphia soda tax, the soda tax passed, and she never once stated, “No, no, I didn’t mean it.”

I’m sorry my foodie friends, but the soda tax just isn’t that big a deal to the Clinton campaign. And I strongly suggest that you drop trying to get Clinton to pick this up because this is a local issue, not a national one.

This all just demonstrates the problem with writing news stories related to email hacks: people can cherry pick through the emails to find what they want, but whatever they choose to publicize is taken out of context, out of the bigger picture, and all they’re doing is feeding the hacking machine.

They’re also, albeit indirectly, misinforming their readers. The writers have made much more of the relationship between Clinton and Coca-Cola than probably exists, because the issue is much more important to these particular journalists, not to mention Coca-Cola, than it is to the Clinton campaign. That’s not to say that sugary soft drinks impact on a growing obesity problem isn’t significant, but it’s not significant at the national level for this particular Presidential race.

Will Coca-Cola have an inside track into the White House during a Clinton Presidency? No more than any other corporation with the big bucks to lobby Congress and the White House, regardless of who is President. And frankly, when it comes to soda, there isn’t much a President, or even a Congress, can do at the national level. Soda taxes, removing soda from schools, outreach…these are almost invariably local and state decisions.

 

 

 

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