By Lee Fang
A wave of lobbyists has arrived on Capitol Hill. But this time, they're occupying top staff positions in the new Congress.
Until a few weeks ago, Joel Leftwich was a
senior lobbyist for the largest food and beverage company in the United
States. During his tenure at PepsiCo — maker of Cheetos, Lay's potato
chips and, of course, Pepsi-Cola — the company had played a leading role
in efforts to beat back local soda taxes and ensure that junk food
remained available in schools. But PepsiCo also faced new challenges at
the federal level. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by
Michelle Obama, had placed new nutrition standards on school lunches.
PepsiCo sent teams of lobbyists to Capitol Hill, deluged political
candidates with donations, and fired off letters to regulators asking
them to weaken the new rules. One such PepsiCo letter requested the
redefinition of a "school day" so the company could continue to sell its
sugary sports drinks at "early morning sports practices." Leftwich, a
former congressional liaison for the Department of Agriculture, was well
positioned to help PepsiCo shore up its allies in the House and Senate.
Last April, Leftwich paid a visit to one such friend, Democratic
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, then chairwoman of the Senate
Agriculture Committee, to thank her for opposing nutrition guidelines
for food stamp purchases.
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