American Beverage Association Sweetened the Pot in Cook County Race with Unsuccessful Last-Minute Funding

The American Beverage Association (ABA) spent $123,000 in just the last week of the March primary race for Cook County Commissioner and corporate lawyer Richard Boykin (D), Illinois campaign finance data released this week show. The ABA, the trade association of Big Soda, funnels the funds of such sweetened soft drink giants as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Snapple.

Incumbent Commissioner Boykin had led the successful effort to repeal the Cook County sales tax on soda, but despite soda industry funding, he lost his bid for reelection to union-backed Democrat Brandon Johnson.

Over 40 percent of the outside money raised by Boykin in 2018 came from soda industry interests.

Cook County Commission primaries usually cost under $300,000 for their entire cycle, a period of many months, and contributions to a candidate typically come from dozens--sometimes hundreds--of contributors. Here, money spent in a single week by the ABA and the Illinois Manufacturers Association's JobsPAC--also opposed to the tax--totaled more than the average typically spent on an entire primary.

The funding push shows that the soda industry's national trade association will not stop at just airing ads or sending phalanxes of lobbyists to kill soda taxes, but will reward candidates on its side and punish candidates who back soda taxes.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported earlier on the money spent on the Cook County Commission primary prior to this final campaign finance report, showing the soda industry unsuccessfully trying to save both Boykin and incumbent Commissioner John Fritchey (D), another opponent of the soda tax, from defeat.

The sweetened beverage tax in Cook County was originally passed to help pay for the county's massive expenditures on public safety and public health, but it was rolled back after an aggressive advertising campaign by the ABA and soda companies themselves.

Soda companies and their trade associations have spent millions of dollars to fight soda taxes in Washington and California, the latter effort proving successful when the California legislature banned--and Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed--legislation preventing local governments from imposing new grocery taxes, as the CMD recently reported.

In Illinois, the soda industry gave $20,000 to Fritchey and about $40,000 to Illinois state legislative leaders and party committees in order to begin what turned out to be an unneeded effort to preempt soda taxes at the state level, as was done in California. The state legislative campaign to preempt local soda taxes can be revived if any cities or towns choose to do battle with the ABA and its allies.

Don Wiener

Don Wiener is a writer at the Center for Media and Democracy. Don has 40 years experience working as a policy analyst, researcher, media strategist, and coalition coordinator for dozens of community, public interest, labor, and environmental groups. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.