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In-Depth Interview: Mark Pertschuk of PreEmption Watch Explains How Big Soda Shook Down California

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Mark Pertschuk, who led the charge to change tobacco laws, exposes how pre-emption is used to thwart democracy and strengthen power of special interests.

In July, California’s legislature and governor faced an elegant — and legal — extortion threat. The American Beverage Association, funded by Coke and Pepsi, demanded immediate passage of legislation that preempts any soda taxes imposed by county or local governments for the next 12 years. If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Democratic-controlled legislature refused, Big Soda would go forward with a ballot initiative this November that would severely limit any future tax increases at local and county levels. Brown blinked and signed the preemption law, averting what he saw as a larger, long-term danger.

But the governor’s action opened the door to other extortion schemes cooked up by well-funded corporate interests; Silicon Valley tech firms successfully used similar tactics to press for the removal of an initiative to protect online privacy rights.

Our guest, Mark Pertschuk, is the founder and executive director of, which advocates for healthier communities through grassroots action. He also manages Preemption Watch, which tracks legislation that prevents or invalidates local measures aimed at improving civil rights, health, and safety. As president and executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, he was instrumental in the passage of many laws regulating tobacco use.

This podcast was originally posted at WhoWhatWhy. 

Pertschuk explains how preemption works, and details the California soda tax case. We also discuss the 13 states that ban most or all regulation of factory farms and agribusiness, and a similar number of states that undermine smoking bans in public places.

And we talk about “good preemption” that sets a floor for regulations, compared to “bad preemption” that puts a ceiling on local laws and regulations.