Minutes after debate over corporate influence, Coca-Cola wins out over public good in Senate Finance Committee
MONTPELIER, VT—Just minutes after an extended floor debate about the possible influence of corporate contributions, the Senate Finance Committee opted against a publicly-supported proposal to have the state keep an estimated $1-3 million per year in unclaimed Bottle Bill nickels rather than allow the beverage industry to continue to pocket the cash, as it has been doing for decades.
During the floor debate over a provision in the campaign finance bill (S.82) that would have banned direct contributions from corporations to candidates, Coca-Cola was repeatedly invoked as the poster child for deep-pocketed corporate interests, even as its lobbyists sat watching in the wings.
Immediately afterwards, the Coke flack walked downstairs and pitched the Senate Finance Committee on the importance of continuing to line his industry’s pockets with millions of dollars of Vermonters’ money, one nickel at a time. Coke’s position prevailed, despite the fact that the company’s net profits were $9.2 billion in 2012.
A poll conducted by VPIRG in 2010 found that 79 percent of Vermonters support having the unclaimed nickels stay with the state and be used to support other recycling programs.
“Before the ink was even dry on the vote to allow corporations to continue to give money directly to candidates, Coca-Cola managed to convince a committee to keep giving away millions of dollars that rightfully belongs to Vermonters and should be used for public purposes,” said Lauren Hierl, environmental health advocate at VPIRG.
“The timing of the vote to extend the Coke give-away certainly looks bad,” noted Hierl. “But we’re more concerned about the substance. Seven of the ten states with a Bottle Bill already keep some or all of the unclaimed deposits. Four-out-of-five Vermonters want the state to keep the money rather than have it go to the industry. This one simple change would bring in millions of dollars just when the state desperately needs it, and it wouldn’t raise taxes on anyone. Yet in the face of all of that, most committee members chose to keep throwing money at soda and beer interests. It just makes no sense.”
VPIRG praised Senator Tim Ashe for raising the idea of collecting the unclaimed nickels that consumers pay into the beverage container redemption system and using that money to help fund cash-strapped public programs. Testimony on Thursday (4/18) was provided by representatives from Coca-Cola, two other beverage industry representatives, and Justin Johnson, Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.
Senator Ashe was joined by Senators MacDonald and Galbraith in support of this amendment. Each of those Senators had voted earlier that day in support of banning corporate contributions. Senator Lyons also voted to ban corporate contributions, but against this provision. Senators Mullin, Bray and Hartwell voted against banning corporate contributions and against the state collecting unclaimed nickels instead of the beverage industry.
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Vermont Public Interest Research Group is the state’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer and environmental advocacy organization.