Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Why Philly’s Soda Tax Scandal Could Haunt Michael Bloomberg


Over the past year, the city of Philadelphia has been embroiled in one of the most significant corruption scandals in recent memory. Powerful local union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty will go to trial this year after a 116-count federal indictment alleging, among other offenses, that he “had city inspectors hold up the non-union installation of an MRI machine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” used local funds as his “personal bank account” and, in a strange plot twist from the typical corruption cases, “pushed the passage of the city’s soda tax solely to exact revenge on the rival Teamster’s Union.”

Flashback: In 2017, the city of Philadelphia enacted a tax on sweetened beverages purportedly in the interest of improving “public health.” The beverage tax initiative was backed by millions of dollars from Michael Bloomberg and signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney.

But as we now know through the meticulously detailed FBI indictment, city officials were less interested in reducing calories than the number of political opponents.

Indicted union boss Johnny Doc allegedly told another union official, “Let me tell you what (Councilman) Bobby Henon’s going to do… They’re going to start to put a tax on soda again, and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly.” Dougherty allegedly wanted to exact revenge on the Teamsters because he wrongly believed they were responsible for an attack ad against him. 

After it surfaced that residents are forced to pay more at the grocery store because they are collateral damage in a union war, many were outraged and demanded the immediate repeal of this corrupt tax. But one obstacle has been standing in their way: New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has continued to dump money into Philadelphia defending the beverage tax — I guess for Bloomberg, the ends justify the means.

Most recently, Michael Bloomberg donated a cool million dollars to support the reelection of Mayor Jim Kenney, who signed the corrupt tax into law. Mayor Kenney also happens to be “a childhood friend” of the now-indicted “Johnny Doc,” and Johnny Doc is said to have been “the largest figure behind getting Kenney elected mayor.”

Recently, Johnny Doc also steered $200,000 to a separate PAC supporting the mayor’s re-election. Mayor Kenney accepted this contribution after he was hit with the 116-count indictment.

If Mayor Kenney wants Philadelphians to believe that Johnny Doc’s priorities weren’t his priorities when he signed the beverage tax into law, he could start by returning these campaign contributions immediately.

While Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney continues to elicit financial support from his indicted friend, Michael Bloomberg apparently doesn’t bat an eye in continuing to back him or when dumping money into a public education campaign to support his tax. It’s time to demand answers from Bloomberg.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Jonathan Decker

Jonathan Decker is the Chief Economic Correspondent for

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