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Branding Campaign Finance

June 03, 2005

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants this to be the Pepsi Generation(TM) that says "no" to higher taxes and Ruffles(TM) the feathers of special interests.

That seemed to be the message of a TV commercial released last month touting the governor's ballot agenda. It shows Schwarzenegger in a cafeteria talking to Californians, with snack food items spread around the table. The labels for Diet Pepsi, Arrowhead water, Cheetos, Ruffles potato chips and Sun Chips are clearly visible.

It happens that the maker of most of those products is a substantial campaign donor to Schwarzenegger. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which runs a website chronicling the governor's every perceived outrage, points out that Pepsi, Cheetos, Ruffles and Sun Chips are all Pepsico products; the foundation says Pepsico contributed $30,000 to Schwarzenegger campaign committees. The governor's office says that Pepsico's supporting role in the ad is mere coincidence. Call us skeptical, given that ad producers are usually careful to block labels of consumer products.

But that doesn't mean we're outraged. In fact, we think this is a concept that ought to be explored as an explicit business transaction. Wouldn't outright product placement as a means of funding political ads remove much of the taint of campaign cash?

As it is, what's troubling about money in politics is the nature of the quo in the quid pro quo -- the appearance that campaign donors want some legislation or executive action in exchange for their investment. But if politicians could be seen endorsing a brand of soda -- or car, airline, beer, sportswear, take your pick -- while making their own pitch, they would no longer have to feel obliged to do anything more for those who make it possible for them to get on the air.

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