Bottle bills have been bottled up in state legislatures and in Congress for nearly four decades, seldom getting to the floor for a full vote. They are generally defeated in small committees, often by a narrow margin .These defeats are due to the tremendous influence of the well-funded, politically powerful beverage and retail industry lobbies. Over the past forty years, bottle bill opponents have spent enormous sums of money to defeat bottle bill proposals in almost every state legislature and in the U.S. Congress, and to defeat ballot initiatives in more than a dozen states.
Beverage companies and other bottle bill opponents consistently spend significantly more than bottle bill supporters (as much as 30 times more, in the case of Nebraska in 1978!) whenever a bottle bill is on the public ballot. And while bottle bill advocates try their best to garner public support with the limited funds that they have, money talks--and, as can be seen in the collection of Bottle Bill Initiative Spending Records, it usually has the power to defeat the bottle bill as well.
Lobbying the legislators is something anyone can do — all that is required is to take action with the intent of influencing a legislator's decision-making process — but the people who do it best are generally professional lobbyists or lobbying firms. Bottle bill opponents always hire the best lobbyists and public relations firms in a given state. For example, during the 2003 legislative season in New York, the first, fourth, and fifth top state-ranked lobbying firms were hired by members of the beer, soft drink, and food retail business, to work against the passage of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill. For more details, see Table 6 in Bottled Up In Albany: An Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Expenditures Made by Major Opponents to the "Bigger, Better Bottle Bill" in New York State. [PDF,580kb]
These lobbyists and PR folks are not only good at “lobbying;” they generally raise money for election campaigns. Contributing to election campaigns is a common way that bottle bill opponents gain influence over political officials. Some might even call this practice bribery, but that doesn't seem to stop the beverage companies and food retailers.
In New York between 2002 and 2004, beer and soft-drink companies contributed $1,230,250 to state legislators, state political parties, and statewide officeholders, concentrating their donations on the officials with the most political influence. Bottled Up In Albany [PDF,580kb] contains more information on campaign contributions in New York.
And in Connecticut from 2002 to 2005, over 700,000 dollars in campaign contributions prompted Andy Sauer, executive director of Common Cause, to comment, "The death of the bottle bill is a case study of how campaign contributions have corrupted the legislative process." For more information, see the report, The Sinking of the Bottle Bill, from Connecticut Common Cause.
Why have the beverage and packaging industries expended so much energy to attacking bottle bills, and what have they gained? It is hard to say for sure, but we leave you with a quote from a beverage industry man himself--Dwight Reed, president of the National Soft Drink Association in 1980:
"Society is telling us in unmistakable terms that we share equally with the public, the responsibility for package retrieval and disposal.This industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the attempt to dispute, deflect, or evade that message. It is interesting to speculate on the state of our public image, and our political fortunes had that same sum been devoted to disposal or retrieval technology."