Question 2A Campaigns Raised $142K in Contributions
by Samuel Adams
Nov 14, 2013 | 3419 views | 6 6 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OUTGUNNED, OUTSPENT – Kick the Can Telluride organizers, from left, Wendy Borof, Elisa Marie Overall, Bridget Taddonio, Hilary Taylor and Emily Coleman, advocated a small excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverage purchases in Telluride, but were outspent by No On 2A, which was backed by the American and Colorado beverage associations. (Courtesy photo).
OUTGUNNED, OUTSPENT – Kick the Can Telluride organizers, from left, Wendy Borof, Elisa Marie Overall, Bridget Taddonio, Hilary Taylor and Emily Coleman, advocated a small excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverage purchases in Telluride, but were outspent by No On 2A, which was backed by the American and Colorado beverage associations. (Courtesy photo).

TELLURIDE – It’s uncommon that a small and isolated town like Telluride attracts wealthy campaign contributors aiming to sway its municipal elections. But this election season, Telluride was the setting for a fight between corporate interest groups and a billionaire philanthropist who together contributed an estimated total of $148,467 ($81.30 per registered voter in Telluride) in the fight over ballot question 2A, commonly known as the soda tax. 

Question 2A asked voters if the town should put a one cent per one fluid ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in town. The revenues generated by the new tax, estimated at $200,000 annually, would have funded education programs designed to teach Telluride children the importance of choosing healthy lifestyles.

The measure was introduced by Elisa Marie Overall, who manages a three-year, $1.6 million Physical Education Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education in the Telluride and Norwood school districts. Overall, who introduced the tax to the Telluride Town Council in July, hoped new revenues from the tax, if voters approved it, would fund programs similar to those in the PEP programs, which will evaporate in 2014.

But in Telluride, a town that prides itself on its progressive policies and small-town democracy, many citizens reacted to the proposed tax with dismay. By a 68-to-31-percent margin, 2A failed, with many voters expressing distaste at the idea of their local government trying to influence their purchasing decisions. 

Ballot Question 2A was not the first attempt by a local government to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. Similar measures were put on the ballots in Richmond and El Monte, Calif. – large suburbs outside San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Those ballot questions attracted significant campaign contributions from corporate interests: soda tax supporters in Richmond were outspent 35 to 1, with the American Beverage Association contributing $2.5 million – the same amount Richmond city councilors hoped the tax would raise. In El Monte, where only 23 percent of voters favored the tax, the soda industry spent $1.3 million to fight the ballot measure.

Similar spending occurred Telluride, and perhaps on a comparable scale, on a per capita basis.

No on 2A, the local group that opposed the tax, received a total of $75,000 in contributions, with  $20,000 from the Colorado Beverage Association in September and another $55,000 from the American Beverage Association the following month. The group spent $5,000 employing Charles Sheffield, a lobbyist for the Howes Group, a Denver-based lobbying firm with strong ties to the CBA. Sheffield spent months in Telluride orchestrating the No on 2A campaign, even though local grocer and Village Market manager Bob Harnish was the group’s official spokesman and the signer of the campaign finance paperwork. 

But No on 2A sunk into debt while combatting the proposed excise tax. According to the group’s campaign finance paperwork, it spent $80,767 on Goddard Gunster, Inc., a Washington, D.C. public affairs firm, which represents both the American Beverage Association and its Colorado affiliate. 

Telluride Town Clerk M.J. Schillaci said she’s expecting No on 2A will file more contribution and any other donations by the Dec. 5 deadline.

Goddard Gunster spent that money on digital advertising, polling, designing a campaign website and purchasing print advertisements in the Telluride Daily Planet and The Watch. Goddard Gunster also distributed thousands of No on 2A mailing cards, yard signs and stickers.

But Kick the Can Telluride also received substantial contributions from outside donors, raising $67,700 throughout the campaign. 

The Action Now Initiative, a Houston-based philanthropic group funded by John Arnold, a billionaire part-time San Miguel County resident, and his wife Laura, donated a total of $65,000 to Kick the Can Telluride, the advocacy group in favor of the tax. The advocacy group also received a $1,200 contribution from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog and consumer advocacy group.

Overall donated an additional $1,500 of her money to the campaign.

“The way I saw it, I could pitch in $1,500 now to help the measure pass, or at the very least keep the conversation going about future funding for our kids with big donors,” said Overall after the campaign. 

“That $1,500 is what I consider to be my investment in our kids,” she added.

Kick the Can Telluride spent the money designing a campaign website, purchasing stickers, hiring a campaign manager and distributing leaflets. 

While the spending for 2A was nowhere near the aggregate amount spent on the campaigns in Richmond and El Monte, No on 2A and Kick the Can Telluride spent $81.30 per registered Telluride voter ($22 per San Miguel County registered voter) trying to persuade the electorate to deny the tax. And, like in the California suburbs, nearly two-thirds of voters rejected the tax on Election Day, calling into question the role that corporate interest has played in these elections. 


Why Soda?

Although Telluride, tucked deep in the San Juans with easily accessible hiking trails and a world-class ski mountain, isn’t immune to the nation’s obesity epidemic. To receive funding for the PEP grant, Overall and the grant’s co-director, Bridget Taddonio, were required to survey the body mass indices of school children in the Telluride and Norwood school districts. Their survey, verified by a third-party statistician of the U.S. Department of Education’s choice, found that one in five children in those school districts were overweight or obese.

Telluride Town Councilor and former Telluride School District Superintendent Ann Brady questioned this claim, saying, “I’ve worked with children my entire life, and I know that Telluride children are a lot healthier than most… I know a lot of their parents, and I know they wouldn’t feed their children soda.” 

“But many people won’t see these overweight or obese kids,” said Overall during the campaign, “because many of them are home, indoors and on their devices and in front of screens, living a sedentary lifestyle.” 

Kick the Can Telluride targeted sugar-sweetened beverages because research indicates that sugary liquids are a major contributor to the national obesity epidemic.

Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist and former town councilor from Richmond, Calif., was one of two speakers who attended a Kick the Can-sponsored community forum in October, where he presented the health and societal risks associated with consuming these beverages. Sugar in solids is harmful to the body, but liquid sugar is uniquely harmful to the body, experts say. 

“Liquid sugar, as in sodas and sports drinks, is the worst culprit in the obesity epidemic,” said Ritterman. He cited health problems associated with Metabolic Syndrome, which includes obesity, high blood pressure, high fats (triglycerides) circulating in the blood, low good cholesterol (HDL) and pre-diabetes. “All of these come from sugary drinks,” Ritterman said. “Consuming just one of these drinks per week significantly increases the chances of developing these problems.”

To illustrate the health risks associated with soda consumption, Ritterman shared with the audience a 2012 American Heart Association study of more than 42,000 people that linked consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to significantly increased risks of developing serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Ritterman and Kick the Can Telluride organizers are far from the only voices calling for government action to curb our over-consumption of liquid sugar. The American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Family Physicians and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention favor all agree that something must be done to combat the over consumption of these beverages. 

A penny-per-ounce tax could be the “single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease and Control has said.

“Not one single country has managed to turn around its obesity epidemic,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization at a conference in Finland. “This is not a failure of individual willpower. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.”

Eleven states have proposed sugary drink excise and/or sale taxes. The District of Columbia and Colorado have removed sugary beverages from their lists of groceries exempt from sales tax (but because of the structure of sales taxes, the revenues generated by these beverages taxes do not fund specified health programs).

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 18, 2013
Emo, it looks like we're going to have to agree to disagree ... since it appears we have categorical differences with respect to the role of government in the free market as it relates to 2A.

We could engage in a conversation about the ill-effects of "sugary beverages" and you'd find that I'd be in agreement with you 95% of the time. I think a lot of folks are on the same page, and you've been mostly preaching to the choir regarding the adverse health aspects of such. I think this was a common theme throughout the election season, but it was clear that 68% of the people simply didn't like the "sin tax" aspect, government involvement, administrative pitfalls, or simply didn't see the need based on casual observation of kids in town.

See how I lumped the percentage into several "reasons"? We'll probably never know how it breaks down, but I'm sure you have the data regarding the questions I asked earlier (#1 & #2). I'm still interested in knowing, as I'm sure others would be too.

If we were to have a conversation about 2A in particular, we'd probably be talking until we're each blue in the face due to the major differences we seem to have regarding the role of government as it relates to the defeated ballot measure. You're just not going to change my mind on this point and I probably wouldn't change yours either. We might find common ground on somehow providing tax credits to those who eat in a healthy manner, but I'm just not going to budge regarding an arbitrary sin tax on food. I don't claim to be "right" or "wrong", but rather see the implications to the free market as well as the can of worms it would've opened if it were to have passed.

Sorry if the tone of my last post was a bit confrontational, but I found the whole bit about the "good which came out of it" (conversations) difficult to stomach considering we just dodged a MAJOR bullet. I believe your intentions were good and certainly wish you well in your personal endeavors.

Best Regards,

Eric Beermann

November 18, 2013
"unsubstantiated rants by a select but prolific few. "

Emo , that's me and you, remember one finger pointing at me and three pointing back at you!

An expensive Main Street office ,that helped the kids .?

No need to question my status in town ,I,m a graduate of telluride High and my kid is too. We both participated in ski PE,Nordic, skating, soccer, baseball, I did way back in the seventies . My kid had la crosse, hockey,track , and swimming. We have been ADDING sports programs for years. If you want a low impact walking club START ONE.

The sugar misinformation war is over, the voters spoke, time to move on.

Ps keep your good intentions off my ballot !
November 18, 2013
Face you really need a talkin to, you know from the supporters that,ll move on to another town and another cause-that fills THEIR pocketbooks. Come on face you NEED to listen to unregistered town of telluride voters !

This is not about sugar it's about UNMANAGABLE tax programs to make kids skinny , I mean keep after school programs going!I mean to educate the obese , I mean BMI for kids, I mean removing big ag from our food, I mean paying gardeners salaries, I mean giving a platform to out of town voters, I mean to get stats on kids in telluride , I mean Norwood, I mean-there I'd no meaning,it's just unmanageable . Time for KICK to invent the individual product sugar ounce counting machine, it,ll make us all skinny !
November 16, 2013
And the number one reason WHOM is in charge of the list ? WHO decides which products are on the list ? What does ,sugary, mean ? To the campaign ,100 percent fruit juice is good for you. To me it rots teeth and packs on pounds.

The science does not support anti sugar effort,genetics,diet,exercise and education does. Tax programs are absolutly ineffective for calorie reduction. Read: the economist ,sugar tax ineffective.
November 15, 2013
I'm all for "conversations", but not the respective tax measure which had been proposed. Seems to me that $142k is a costly conversation. In the course of the so-called conversation, we never received any definitive answers to the questions of:

1.) How many Telluride kids which had been classified in the COMBINED category of "overweight or obese" were actually designated as obese?

2.) To what degree are kids who are classified as overweight or obese ranked in this category compared to other kids across the country? In other words, just how far along the spectrum are those who have been measured as either overweight or obese (quantitatively speaking)?

To my knowledge, we never received such granular data. This leads me to believe (along with casual observations of kids in a very small town), that such data doesn't represent a real problem - statistically speaking. In other words, if those 1 in 5 kids are in the top (worst) 5% of the overweight/obese category, we'd probably would have been bombarded by such detailed stats from the Kick the Can group.

But we did not receive such a message, nor did we receive detailed answers to questions such as I've posed above.

IMO, this was clearly not a conversation, but rather a one sided rhetorical lecture presented by a special interest designed to pursuade.

Hopefully, Telluride Town Council will hold substantial conversations prior to subjecting the populace to such measures in the future.
November 16, 2013
Dear Face on Mars,

Bridget and I would very much like to have a conversation with you. Over the past three months we held 12 community events dedicated to discussing the many excellent questions our community members have raised on this issue. We also manned an open headquarters on main street six days a week for this purpose.

To my knowledge you have not found the opportunity to take advantage of these.

It has been our experience that attempts at respectful and meaningful dialogue via anonymous online posts have quickly spiraled into unproductive and oftentimes quite unsubstantiated rants by a select but prolific few.

If you would genuinely like to begin a conversation with us I can be reached at and Bridget can be reached at

We look forward to hearing from you.