Anti-soda tax PAC jumps in Cook County Board races

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Commissioner Richard Boykin listens to public speakers on the repeal of the county soda tax, on Sept. 13, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

WASHINGTON — The national beverage industry is gearing up to donate to — or help fundraise for — Cook County Commissioners who backed the repeal of the soda tax, replenishing its political war chest in recent weeks and co-hosting an event on Wednesday in River North.

“The PAC will be endorsing candidates,” said Tarrah Cooper, a spokesman for the beverage industry “Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County” political action committee.

The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained a copy of an invitation for a Wednesday fundraiser to benefit four commissioners fighting off challengers in the March 20 primary and a contender for a board seat left open because Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is running for Congress.

The beneficiaries of the event at Old Crow North, 149 W. Kinzie St., are Commissioners Dennis Deer; John Fritchey; Richard Boykin — all Democrats; Republican Sean Morrison, and Democrat Angie Sandoval, running for the Garcia spot.

The co-hosts listed on the invitation are “Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County,” the Illinois Restaurant Association; the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce; the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Even as the soda tax fades as a specific issue in the various primaries, the beverage industry is remaining a player, both as a direct donor and helping to raise money from other contributors for Cook County Commissioners the industry supports.

The tab for the Old Crow River North event ranges from $150 for an individual ticket to $10,000 to be considered a host of the event. The invitation asks that checks be made payable to the campaign committees established by Deer, Fritchey, Boykin, Morrison and Sandoval.

The PAC does not have to disclose to the public that it is serving as a fundraiser for the commissioners. It only has to tell the Illinois State Board of Elections about direct donations.

Records show that “Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County” in November and December donated a total of $10,000 to Boykin’s campaign, and in December gave $2,500 to Deer’s war chest and $10,000 for Commissioner John Daley’s re-election bid.

The beverage industry created “Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County” in August. One purpose of the PAC: It was an unsubtle political threat hanging over the commissioners who did not support the repeal.

The grass-roots sounding name was designed to deliberately obfuscate the fact that the PAC, spawned with the help of the American Beverage Assocation, gets almost all of its funding from companies related to the beverage industry.

The PAC treasurer is lawyer/lobbyist Michael Kasper, who also does work for Illinois House Speaker/Democratic Party of Illinois chair Michael Madigan.

The Cook County Board voted on Oct. 11 to repeal the tax effective midnight Nov. 30.

The PAC lives on, and heading into the March 20 Illinois primary took in $110,800 this month.

According to records at the Illinois State Board of Elections, the donations are: on Feb. 6, $22,200 from Pepsico, Inc., in New York; on Feb. 8, $44,400 from two Coca-Cola companies in Atlanta and Rosemont; on Feb. 14, $22,000 from the D.C. based American Beverage Association and $22,200 from the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group PAC in Texas.

As of Dec. 31, the last filing with contribution and expenditure information, the beverage PAC had $144,481 available at the end of last year.

The PAC was born as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was pouring millions of dollars into a crusade to support Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s soda tax.

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