The CEO of CrossFit has not seemed particularly interested in throwing his weight around in partisan politics.
That has changed with one notable, somewhat obscure race this cycle.
Greg Glassman, the CEO of the company behind the cultlike high-intensity workout regimen, has become a high-profile surrogate for Nanette Barragan, a Democratic city councilwoman running to replace US Rep. Janice Hahn in California’s 44th district, which includes parts of South Los Angeles.
For Glassman, a self-proclaimed libertarian who lives about 100 miles away from the district, supporting Barragan is seemingly born out of a personal and professional distaste with Barragan’s opponent, Isadore Hall. That’s partially because of Hall’s supposed closeness with the American Beverage Association, which represents a product that makes Glassman furious: soda.
Last year, the CrossFit CEO said, he attempted to meet with Hall to discuss the representative’s opposition to a 2015 California bill that would’ve required some beverages with high sugar content to carry labels warning of their health risks.
But Glassman told Business Insider that Hall canceled both meetings without warning, prompting the CEO to tell a local fitness columnist, Roy Wallack, he would “throw $5 million in [Hall’s] face” and “have people dig deep in his finances” for connections to special interests.
“I stopped a family vacation in Scottsdale, flew out to see him, and when I turned my phone on he canceled on me, never returned the phone calls,” Glassman said in an interview. “His handlers know who I am.”
The CEO realized Hall was running for higher office and decided to go all in on the candidate most likely to stop him. Hall did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
In December, Glassman set up a meeting with Barragan, telling her about the bill he says Hall attempted to dodge. Barragan told Business Insider that the two connected over a shared distaste for the disproportionate health effects of soda on immigrant families and the pressures that soda makers placed on lawmakers.
“My parents didn’t know better; they came from Mexico. My mom had a third-grade education. I had no idea, no clue” about the harms of soda, Barragan told Business Insider, adding that the 44th district has the highest rate of diabetes in California.
“I saw firsthand in my family having diabetes. So when he reached out to me and I told him my story, he said, ‘You’re the exact type of person I’m talking about,'” Barragan said.
Glassman’s zeal about Barragan comes partly as a surprise, considering the CEO has mostly abstained from political activity.
Federal Election Commission filings show Glassman’s only donation was $350 to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2010. His company donated to the super PAC supporting Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.
But in this race, the CEO has maxed out his individual donations limit in support of Barragan. And the backing for Barragan extends to the company and its partners. The Podesta Group, a public affairs firm that represents CrossFit, has donated several thousand dollars to Barragan’s campaign.
Barragan has hosted campaign events at CrossFit affiliates across the district. The company’s account posted a video of Glassman and Barragan addressing CrossFit participants in the 44th district on Barragan’s behalf.
“I need you to vote. This is your community. Take it back from soda pop,” Glassman said. “Don’t let Isadore Hall have this.”
Glassman has frequently used his position as CEO as a platform for his crusade against sugar-filled beverages. Glassman’s Twitter feed includes tweets aimed at the soda industry:
Junk-food paid public health interests in government and academia to hide the source of the leading cause of death and illness globally.
— Greg Glassman (@CrossFitCEO) August 28, 2016
— Greg Glassman (@CrossFitCEO) July 28, 2016
Barragan and Glassman have both attempted to cast Hall as too cozy with the soda industry.
“You think he’s going to stand up and say, ‘Hold on a second, I’m going to make this an issue?'” Barragan told Business Insider. “We know by his track record he’s a top recipient of oil money and tobacco money. He’s been fighting for these industries. Now you can just throw on the sugar industry to that. And that is not good for people in this district, for the 44th.”
Glassman said he sees the influence of the beverage industry across the political landscape. And he says it has interfered in his business interests.
Glassman told Business Insider that he suspects soda companies backed establishments attempting to enforce regulations in Washington, DC, requiring personal trainers to meet citywide standards.
“If I’ve got the soda a——- lobbying against me, I’m certainly going to support something they don’t like,” Glassman said of his support for Barragan.
Over the past several years, CrossFit has flexed its legislative muscle on occasion – to some success.
A 2015 Wall Street Journal article detailing the company’s fight against lawmakers attempting to expand personal-fitness licensing regulations quoted a local DC regulator who likened the company’s executives and club owners’ lobbying intensity to that of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm.
Glassman also meets infrequently on Capitol Hill with Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s staff regarding making health studies more transparent about their sources of funding, particularly if they come from processed-food industries.
Glassman said Barragan’s race is a potential launching point for more visible political activism aimed at increasing fitness and lowering consumption of sugar-heavy products like soda.
“We’re just getting started,” Glassman said.