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Clerk Orr: Sugary drink tax, ridesharing tax ordinance were focus of Cook County lobbying activity in 2016

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Special to suffredin.org
by David Orr

Lobbyists’ total reported earnings were $1.9 million in 2016

From a sugary drink tax to a ridesharing ordinance, lobbyists seeking to influence Cook County elected officials were paid $1.9 million in 2016, according to a report issued today by Cook County Clerk David Orr. The July-December filing period accounted for $719,355, the lowest compensation period in over a decade.

Additionally, the amount of money lobbyists were paid in 2016– $1,902,128– made 2016 the lowest-grossing year for Cook County lobbyists since 2011.

While the July-December filing period accounted for only $719,355, making it the lowest compensation period in over a decade, Orr cautions anyone who may assume that lobbying is on the decline.

There was a strong amount of lobbying in the past six months primarily surrounding two high-profile matters - taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and ridesharing services.

“Every side of an issue has its lobbyists, and often they provide valuable information to public officials, but those people who lobby government should be held to the same strict standards of transparency,” Orr said.

In 2016, from July 1 through Dec. 31, 87elected officials and high-ranking employees throughout Cook County government were lobbied a total of 1,123 times by 225 lobbyists.

Those 1,123 lobbying actions, as reported by the lobbyists themselves, include:

  • 279 emails
  • 220 face-to-face meetings
  • 188 letters
  • 88 social media posts
  • 71 phone calls
  • 30 political contributions (the political contributions ranged from 75 cents – “in-kind notices” – to $7,500)

These numbers do not total the 1,123 lobbying actions, because a handful of lobbyists’ reports didn’t detail who was lobbied or for instance, how many officials may have received the same letter or email. Additionally, political contributions may be listed under “other,” “event,” or “letter.”

Lobbyists contacted members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and President 803 times alone, accounting for nearly 72 percent of lobbying efforts in the second half of the year.

Lobbying can include a phone call, meeting, email, letter, text message or event. While some lobbyists do not report any activity, others provide detailed reporting including every newsletter and thank you card. This year, several lobbyists have even reported tweets and public comments at Cook County Board meetings as lobbying activity.

Political contributions to Cook County officials accounted for $16,213 (14 percent) of the total expenditures for the last reporting period.


Total Compensation by Lobbying Period:

Year

Jan. – June

July – Dec.

Total

2011

$824,136

$950,034

$1,774,170

2012

$1,154,003

$1,230,879

$2,384,882

2013

$1,456,675

$1,363,229

$2,819,904

2014

$1,194,121

$1,155,843

$2,349,964

2015

$1,473,207

$1,473,879

$2,947,086

2016

$1,182,773

$719,355

$1,902,128


Total compensation to lobbyists dipped approximately 35.5 percent from 2015 to 2016. The amount they earned in 2016 fell behind every other year since 2011 and it was only the second time in the past eight years that lobbyist compensation failed to exceed $2 million.


Sugary Beverage Tax and Ridesharing Generate Lobbying Activity

On November 10, 2016, the Cook County Board passed the Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance, which imposed a tax at the rate of $0.01 per ounce on the retail sale of all sweetened beverages in Cook County. The new tax will take effect July 1, 2017.

There were about 120 contacts by different lobbyists to county officials regarding theSweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance. Lobbyists made their case to county officials on behalf of clients such as McDonald’s, Pepsi Americas General Bottlers, Red Bull North America, the American Beverage Association, and the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association – spent $94,650 (83 percent of the total of $114,636 that lobbyists spent on expenditures in the reporting period) on a five-week grassroots, phone banking campaign in support of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

In other lobbying related to the beverage tax, McDonald’s spent $2,500; Red Bull North America spent $5,000; Pepsi spent $5,000; the Illinois Beverage Association, spent $1,350 on lobbying and met with county officials nine times regarding the beverage tax; and the American Beverage Association (which employed three separate lobbying firms) listed $0 spent specifically on the sugar-sweetened beverage tax but $5,000 on an unspecified “tax issue” and $60,000 on a “tax ordinance.” Combined, this totals another nearly $80,000 of self-reported direct lobbying efforts spent regarding the tax. Additionally, the Cook County Farm Bureau lobbied officials nine times about the beverage tax, either through personal meetings, emails, or letters.

It’s up to the lobbyists to detail the nature of their contacts with county officials, so for instance, a lobbyist may be lobbying on behalf of a client in the beverage industry around the time of debate on the sweetened beverage tax, but when it comes to specifying the reason for their lobbying, they may simply report “tax ordinance” or “legislation.” On the other hand, there are lobbyists and clients such as the Heart and Stroke Association, which will specifically state its support of the tax, and McDonald’s, represented by Kaizen Inc., which states, “Defeat Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax.”

The Illinois Public Health Institute detailed some 40 instances of “lobbying” regarding the beverage tax, including personal meetings and emails, as well as public comments at board meetings and social media posts to support the ordinance.

The County Board has also considered a 50-cent tax on every trip on a ridesharing service, such as Lyft or Uber, which originates or ends in Cook County. Proposed last fall, the ordinance has been deferred to committee.

Lyft spent $30,000 on lobbying specifically regarding the “proposed ridesharing ordinance” and Uber, according to the report, spent $17,500 on lobbying related to “legislation … potential legislation … (and) tax issue.”


The Top Five Lobbyists in 2016, by Total Compensation:

Lobbyist/Firm

Compensation

All-Circo Inc.

$736,000

Thomson Weir LLC

$168,000

Mary Kay Minaghan

$114,000

Nicolay & Dart LLC

$97,500

Columbia Capital Management

$85,000

The amount of money paid to those top 5 lobbyists -- $1,200,500 – accounted for 63 percent of the total lobbyists earned in 2016.

In addition to the Sweetened Beverage Tax and ridesharing ordinance, issues which county officials were lobbied on in 2016 also included, a paid sick leave ordinance and a pharmaceutical disposal ordinance, among others.

There were 147 companies who paid for a lobbyist or had a lobbyist on staff to lobby Cook County government in the second half of 2016. Some lobbying firms, including non-profits, lobby on their own behalf and therefore do not report any compensation. However, those firms may still spend money to lobby on meals, events, educational materials and more.


Top-Paying Lobbyist Clients for Second Half of 2016:

Client

Amount paid to lobbyists

Mclane Company, Inc.

$84,000

American Beverage Association

$65,000

Cook County Farm Bureau

$35,000

Lyft

$30,000

Raymond T. Nice

$30,000

*Cook County of Illinois is listed as a ‘Client’ that paid $85,000 to a lobbyist in the second half of 2016, but in that instance, the “lobbyist” was a company that provided financial services, through a competitive bid, to the county. The company classified this as lobbying, which it was not.

Besides those with an interest in the beverage and ridesharing ordinances, clients of the lobbyists included banks, financial firms, labor unions, real estate, alcoholic beverage distributors, pharmaceutical companies, telecommunications and computer companies, ticket brokers, tobacco companies, chambers of commerce and other business groups.

More lobbyist information can be found on the Clerk’sLobbyist Onlinewebsite where anyone can search by lobbyist or firm name, what they are lobbying about, who they lobbied and how much they were paid.

###



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