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Playing Both Sides
Posted by Charles Esslinger on May 23rd, 2014


Over the past couple of decades, Coca-Cola has formed partnerships with numerous anti-drunk driving organizations. In 1996, the soft-drink conglomerate teamed up with Walmart to donate over a quarter of a million dollars to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In 1997, the company partnered with Walmart again, giving the anti-drunk driving organization 15 cents for every case of soda sold in Walmart stores over a six-week period. As recently as 2012, Coca-Cola posted a message on its website praising the “crucial role,” that MADD plays in “aiding the fight against drunk driving.”

Because all the work they've done with MADD, many consider Coca-Cola to be a strong partner in the anti-drunk driving movement. However, when you take a closer look, it really isn't that simple. For years, Coca-Cola has been a member of a trade association called the American Beverage Institute (ABI). The ABI, as you may already know, actively works to fight tougher drunk driving laws. Coca-Cola is one of the nearly 150 companies that the ABI has listed as members.

Until now, Coca-Cola's membership in the ABI has been kept secret. In an effort to shield its organization, the ABI has refused to share a list of its members with the press or general public. However, the Huffington Post, working with the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), came across some documents containing a member list during a site-specific Google search of the ABI's website. According to the list, Coca-Cola was a member in 2011 or 2013. Coca-Cola North America, the North American branch of Coca-Cola's operations, was listed as a member in 2003.

As you might expect, MADD wasn't too happy to learn that one of its biggest supporters was a member of the ABI. “I really don't know what to say,” said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer for MADD. “It is a little shocking. I guess it is unfortunate. But it certainly is their right.”

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, defended their membership in the ABI. “On behalf of our customers, Coca-Cola has provided support to the ABI over the years,” Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kristen Witt said. “We are not engaged in ABI advocacy efforts.”

The ABI:

The American Beverage Institute was by founded in 1991 by Rick Berman, a longtime political consultant who is best known for his advocacy for tobacco, booze, and anti-union interests. According to the organization's website, its mission is “the protection of responsible on-premise consumption of adult beverages.” To achieve this goal, the ABI has tried to lower blood-alcohol limits for drivers, prevent alcohol tax increases, stop the implementation of breathalyzer devices in vehicles, and end the use of sobriety checkpoints.

As you might expect, the ABI has often found itself fighting political battles against anti-drunk driving organizations. MADD in particular has fought the group on just about every alcohol-related issue. Among ABI officials, MADD is often referred to as a “neo-Prohibitionist” anti-alcohol organization.

When it comes to being a member in the ABI, secrecy is key. As a 501(c)(6), the ABI is not required to provide list of its members to the public. “This is the way Washington operates these days,” explained Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW. “I think that many of those companies would be insistent that their participation be secret because there's just no way they want to take on those kind of aggressive tactics... They're not going to gout out and attack Mothers Against Drunk Driving. None of them. But they seem happy when Mother's Against Drunk Driving is attacked.”


The Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/13/american-beverage-institute_n_5310917.html