Earlier today, City Councilman Frank DiCicco made a startling revelation: Soda companies have offered to make a major contribution to a local foundation in exchange for the city dropping the proposal to tax soda and sweetened beverages.
Edward Hazzouri, a lobbyist for the American Beverage Association, told Philly Clout that the soda industry would contribute up to $10 million for city programs, funnelled through a foundation. Now, new details are emerging as a top official from the Pew Charitable Turst confirmed that discussions are ongoing.
“They asked if they made a contribution to Pew, would we support it?” said Rebecca Rimel, President and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “We talked to a lot of partners, and, since we feel like we're equipped to administer the money, we welcome the contribution.”
Rimel said that Pew was initially approached by Harold Honickman, a philanthropist who has given millions to local causes. Honickman, who has a net worth of more than $800 million, made his fortune partially through soda and bottling companies.
So, does that mean Pew is rooting for the soda tax to fail? Rimel says that is not the case.
“First of all, we have no position on the tax issue. That is really a matter for City Council, the Mayor, and the soft drink industry,” she said.
“Our only role here is that if someone wants to make a contribution, and we think it could help kids, then we would welcome it,” said Rimel. “We would not take funds that are in someway encumbered with a public policy position. That would not be appropriate.”
The public policy angle arises because, as sources close to the negotiations confirm, the money would be clearly linked to the city withdrawing the tax on soda and sugary drinks. And that makes some good government groups nervous.
“I think Vince Fumo would be proud. It's an oddball solution to this particular problem, which should be addressed in far more meaningful ways,” said Zach Stalberg, head of the reform group Committee of Seventy.
“The property owners don't get a chance to bribe their way out of paying higher property taxes,” said Stalberg. “I might be missing something, but this strikes me as highly unusual. We need long-term solutions, not a little buy off. ”