The Huffington Post has gotten its hands on documents that show while Coca-Cola was supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) it was also a member of the American Beverage Institute (ABI). The ABI, in trying to live up to its stated mission of “the protection of responsible on-premise consumption of adult beverages” has supported measures that would lower the legal blood-alcohol limits and fought against measures that would raise taxes on alcohol and institute sobriety checkpoints. An op-ed highlighted on the About Us page right now is from the October 24, 2013 issue of the Las Vegas Review-Journal called “Lower blood-alcohol limits won’t curb drunk driving deaths.”
When questioned about the support, Coke spokesperson Kirsten Witt told HuffPo, “On behalf of our customers, Coca-Cola has provided support to ABI over the years. We are not engaged in ABI advocacy efforts.” According to the HuffPo story, the annual membership dues at ABI are in “… between $2,500 a year (for companies with under $1 billion in sales that attend no meetings) to $45,000 a year (for those with $2 billion in sales that attend the three ABI meetings a year)” for non-alcohol companies. Dues vary for restaurants, retailers, companies that sell non-alcoholic beverages and businesses that sell alcohol.
MADD’s chief government affairs officer J.T. Griffin said of the situation, “It is a little shocking. I guess it is unfortunate. But it certainly is their right.”
Griffin is right. It’s totally Coke’s right to support both. But with customers looking for authenticity, it calls the company’s brand into question.