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MIHALOPOULOS: Pepsi sweetened coffers of pop tax foe’s law firm

Monday, October 02, 2017
Chicago Sun-Times
by Dan Mihalopoulos

Despite announcing he won’t challenge Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in next year’s Democratic primary, county Commissioner Richard Boykin promises he won’t back off a bit from his vocal criticism of her pop tax.

Boykin tweeted a link to a news article about the tax last month and shared this thought: “Thanks dishonest Preckwinkle for this mess.”

Now, Boykin says he believes a couple of County Board members who — unlike him — had voted last year with Preckwinkle on the tax would soon change sides and give their support to a measure ending collection of the unpopular tax.

“I think we have the votes to repeal,” said Boykin, a Democrat from Oak Park. “I think we probably have nine or 10 votes.”

There may not be enough votes for an override in case Preckwinkle vetoes the tax-repeal ordinance, he says.

Still, Boykin added, “I fully expect that the repeal will take place on Oct. 10” when commissioners are scheduled to meet and vote on the issue again.

That outcome would mark a major victory not only for Boykin but also for a company that’s long been a client of Boykin’s law firm — PepsiCo.

OPINION

Boykin is a partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. He has continued to work for Barnes & Thornburg as a lobbyist for a long list of clients, even since he was elected to the County Board in 2014.

Court records show lawyers from the firm have represented Pepsi in many cases, defending the company against allegations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

And Pepsi hired Barnes & Thornburg a couple years ago to lobby against the pop-tax proposal that the Chicago City Council rejected.

“This was short-term lobbying work in 2015 related to the city soft-drink tax proposal,” company spokesman Dave DeCecco says.

DeCecco says he doesn’t know which of the firm’s lobbyists had worked for his company against the city ordinance that would have taxed purchases of Pepsi and similar sweetened beverages.

Boykin told me he knew his firm had worked for Pepsi and Coca-Cola on court cases and lobbied at City Hall for Pepsi.

And he acknowledges that, as a partner in Barnes & Thornburg, he gets to share in profits from the firm.

But Boykin says he didn’t work on any of the cases for Pepsi and had nothing to do with his firm’s lobbying for the company at City Hall in 2015.

He has no plan to abstain from voting for the repeal.

“No conflict, absolutely not,” he says. “I’m free to vote on these matters that come before me.”

Although Boykin himself didn’t lobby for Pepsi, federal lobbyist-disclosure records show he and other D.C. lobbyists from Barnes & Thornburg got paid a total of $930,000 between 2013 and 2016 by the School Nutrition Association — which has received funding from Pepsi.

“Look, I don’t know where they get their funds from,” he said of the School Nutrition Association, which has been accused of undermining efforts to require healthier student lunches. “I don’t represent them anymore. I wasn’t the lead guy on that anyhow.”

Pepsi has given campaign contributions to Boykin and every one of the seven other commissioners who voted against the tax since last November, when the County Board approved the measure.

 

Political cash from Pepsi also has gone to the sponsors of pending legislation in Springfield that would repeal the pop tax. State records show no less than 16 Illinois lawmakers who have reported receiving campaign contributions from Pepsi in the past year are listed now as co-sponsors of the anti-tax legislation.



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