The Texas-based movie theater chain Cinemark USA Inc has joined the campaign against Richmond’s Measure N, adding nearly $107,000 in non-monetary contributions against the measure between July 15-Sept. 30, according to campaign statements filed with the City Clerk.
During that period, Cinemark was one of two contributors to the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, which has spent $2.2 million this year in opposition to Measure N.
CCABT’s other — and largest — contributor is the American Beverage Association, a lobby group for the beverage industry based in Washington D.C. ABA and its strategic advocacy fund has given more than $1.4 million to the CCABT this year.
Cinemark, which is based in Plano, Texas and owns Century Theatres, paid for anti-Measure N ads to play before movies, as well as other No on N display materials.
Richmond’s Century Hilltop 16 movie theater started playing a No on Measure N trailer about two weeks ago, General Manager Ben Suller said.
The trailer begins with a man and his two teenage sons walking away from the concessions counter in the theater with drinks and popcorn in hand. The teenage boys leave, and the father looks at the camera and says “They’re good kids.” Measure N, he says, “hits people who can least afford to pay.”
The boys and father are then shown in the theater, watching the screen as text and a narrator’s voice list off reasons to oppose the beverage tax.
Customers at the theater’s concessions will see anti-Measure N literature on the counters and even on the workers behind them. Suller said his theater has received “No on N” T-shirts to distribute to his employees.
Suller said he’s seen a mixture of customers’ reactions — from people throwing the papers away out of indifference to others talking about the merits of the measure while in the theater. He said he once overheard a husband and wife arguing — one was in favor, one against.
Milt Moritz, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners California/Nevada, said Measure N seems simple on the surface, but, “It’s a very, very cumbersome procedure” to implement a system to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.
Moritz said that because the average person goes to a theater so infrequently, the business shouldn’t be held accountable for health issues related to that person’s beverage consumption.
“Anyone that goes to a movie theater six times a year is considered a heavy moviegoer,” Moritz said. “We’re not the source of his obesity.”
Most of the $25,293 spent in support of Measure N came from an individual contributor from Saratoga, Calif., Tor Braham.
Braham’s contribution breathed life into the Yes on N campaign, whose only other major contributors with donations of more than $1,000 were a New York-based nutrition school called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which gave $2,000, and another individual contributor, Richard Hart of San Carlos, Calif.
The CCABT’s expenditure records also show that at least $300,000 spent so far to oppose Measure N was spent outside of Richmond, mostly on legal fees and production costs for videos and other media against the measure. The coalition spent at least $30,000 on campaign teams engaged to do canvassing work like interacting with voters and planting yard signs, more than what Yes on N has spent in total.
The issue of whether PACs and Independent Committees in Richmond should declare that special interest groups and lobby groups from outside Richmond were funding their campaigns on mailers and billboards has divided the City Council, which last month amended an ordinance to require committees to disclose where their major funding comes from.
At the council meeting last week, Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said it is important for residents to know where the money behind campaigns is coming from.
“We need to protect the residents of Richmond from deceptive campaign mailers,” Beckles said. “Poor families are getting poorer every day, everybody is having to do with less, the only people that are not having to do with less are the billion-dollar corporations. We need to help those working with less to be on a level playing field.”
Coucilmember Jeff Ritterman, the architect of Measure N, said the massive influx of outside funding showed how far the beverage industry was prepared to go to defeat the measure.
“The election in Richmond is pitting Big Soda and Big Oil and those who do their bidding against a grassroots people’s movement that wants to reverse childhood obesity and hold Chevron accountable for the negligence leading up to the fire,” Ritterman said. “The new medical science is frightening. Sodas cause obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. The good news is we can all be healthier just by replacing soda with tap water.”