An hour after we recorded this discussion, everything changed. Then on Friday it changed again, in a big way. After Cook County Commissioner John Daley announced that he was switching sides on the pop tax, other commissioners jumped with him, assuring the “repeal” side that they had the votes to override a veto. So, although the vote is a few days away, it seems certain that the “pop tax” will disappear in December.
Nevertheless, if the debate over this controversial tax weren’t already divisive enough, Sun Times columnist/reporter Dan Mihalopoulos stirred things up on Sunday with the revelation that Commissioner Richard Boykin, who led the anti-tax movement, had been a lobbyist for an industry advocacy group called the Nutrition Association, funded in part by PepsiCo, and that the law firm in which he’s a partner, through its client PepsiCo, had lobbied against the Cook County tax.
On this week’s show, Mihalopoulos lays out the details. “Boykin works for a firm called Barnes & Thornburg,” he explains . “He doesn’t just work for them, he’s a partner. He shares in revenue as a partner, and they have a client called PepsiCo, which I think quite obviously has an interest in this issue. They’ve donated money to Boykin and every other commissioner who is opposed to this tax.” But, he continues, “Also to 16, no less than 16 of the cosponsors of legislation in Springfield that would repeal this tax, and also to a PAC that’s recently been created to oppose this tax, or to support people who oppose this tax and punish people that support the tax.”
And Barnes and Thornberg even played a role in opposing the tax a couple of years ago when the City of Chicago briefly considered a soda tax. “They’ve represented Coca-Cola as well in the last couple of years,” he tells us. “Pepsi also had hired Barnes & Thornburg to lobby for them according to Pepsi, at City Hall when the government of the City of Chicago considered a pop tax, never came to fruition, was rejected ultimately, and we can assume that that’s partly through the lobbying efforts of Barnes & Thornburg and the decisions that the aldermen and the Mayor made ultimately. So, I think it’s fairly simple that he has profited from all of the clients of that firm as a partner, and one of them is Pepsi, and I think it was fair to point that out.”
Boykin appeared on Wednesday night at a live debate at The Hideout, to make the case for repeal with co-hosts Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky. And he told the First Tuesdays audience how unhappy he was with Mihalopoulos’ column.
“I’ll deal with the Dan Mihalopoulos article,” he told the crowd. “I thought it was a hit job on me, personally. And quite frankly I’ve sent a letter to the firm cuz I don’t want even the hint or appearance of impropriety relative to the firm doing business with PepsiCo, and somehow I’m benefitting financially from it. That was the subject of the article. And somehow Dan stretched it and said, hey, the firm is doing millions of dollars worth of business with, you know, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. The reality of it is – I work at a law firm that has 800 lawyers, 13 offices nationwide. And we’ve done less than $10-thousand worth of business – legal business — this year, with PepsiCo. And so what I did… I sent a letter to the management committee at the firm and said to them, I don’t want any proceeds as part of my share as a partner from the firm, from PepsiCo or Coca-Cola litigation-related matters’ legal representation.”
On Chicago Newsroom, Mihalopoulos fired back.
“That’s news to me that he would say that he has now asked his company not to share the profits from their work for Pepsi with him. Is he giving back the money that he has made off them? I don’t hear that in those comments that were made.”
And he recoiled from the characterization of his column as a “hit job”.
“If you mean hit job in the sense of what I think hit job means to everyone, he’s saying that somebody paid me to write about him? I get paid my salary. I don’t get more or less, depending on what I write about Boykin or anybody else. So I think that’s a very serious allegation that he’s making that’s completely false and slanderous frankly…Now, he also makes another statement that we said that there were millions of dollars that were paid by these companies to his firm. Did not say that in the piece. Anybody is welcome to read the piece again. Did not say that. In fact, we don’t know how much money his firm made. He didn’t share that information. He says that this year they got paid less than $10,000 by Pepsi. But they’ve represented them for years and years in a variety of cases, and if the amount of money that Pepsi has paid to Barnes & Thornburg to represent them in a number of cases and to lobby for them at City Hall is that minuscule, that would represent one of the deals of the century for Pepsi. But he’s welcome to disclose how much money he has made off of them, but I’m not aware that he is no longer to get funding from them or share in those proceeds, because when I talked to him it was very clear that he’s a partner and he shares in the profits of the firm, and PepsiCo is a client of the firm, and it’s quite simple.”
Whether it was the PepsiCo money, or the outrage of taxpayers, or the persuasive power of Richard Boykin and his colleagues, their side appears to have won this battle, and now President Preckwinkle and the board of Commissioners has to decide how to replace the $200 million they claimed it would raise.
And you can read a full transcript here: CN transcript Oct 5 2017 Mihalopoulos