November 20th, 2004
Coca-Cola Lobbyist Leaves PTA Board
By Rhea R. Borja
Critics of commercialism in schools are calling the resignation of a senior
Coca-Cola Co. executive from the National PTAs board of directors a step
in the right direction.
The Chicago-based associationwhich has 6.5 million members, who are mostly
parents and educatorshas been the target of criticism for its partnership
John H. Downs Sr.the senior vice president of public affairs and the
chief lobbyist for the Atlanta-based beverage giantquietly resigned in
May, more than a year before his two-year term was set to expire in June 2005,
said Laura Battle, a PTA spokeswoman.
Mr. Downs sent a resignation letter to PTA President Linda Hodge saying that
increased responsibilities precluded him from serving his full two-year
term, said Laura Asman, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.,
the marketing, production, and distribution arm of Coca-Cola.
His PTA board tenure had sparked sharp criticism from some parents, educators
and anti-commercialism activists. They said it was a conflict of interest for
an organization that prides its role as an advocate for childrens education
and health to have on its board the chief lobbyist of a company that markets
sugary drinks to children, especially in an era of rising concern about childhood
The alliance between Coke and the PTA was a tremendous black eye for
both organizations, said Gary Ruskin, the executive director of Commercial
Alert, a Portland, Ore.- based watchdog group, which learned this month of Mr.
Downs resignation. There was a lot of media attention, so they cut
But Ms. Asman denied that such criticism was a factor in Mr. Downs departure.
He just wasnt able to fulfill his obligations, she said.
Its as simple as that.
Though Mr. Downs has stepped down, Coca-Cola remains a sponsor of a National
PTA program to improve parent involvement in schools.
About 4 percent of the PTAs $12 million annual budget comes from corporate