by Lee Fang
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.