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U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, A Critic Of Vaping, Accepted $2,000 From Two JUUL Employees

CHICAGO (CBS) – Freshman U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood is an outspoken critic of vaping, but federal records show she also pocketed money from people associated with the e-cigarette company, JUUL.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov is Always Investigating and explains why Underwood plans to keep the campaign cash.

On Tuesday, Underwood was at the center of a listening session about the dangers of vaping. She says vaping is a problem that isn't getting better.

However, buried in her 2018 campaign contributions are two $1,000 donations from employees of JUUL. One of the employees is Daniel Cruise, JUUL's chief of public affairs. The second is high-powered lobbyist Jim Esquea, a former Health and Human Services assistant secretary.

Underwood's campaign manager, Ronnie Cho, dismissed any questions about the propriety of the donations around the politically charged issue, saying the money was provided by supporters who just happened to work for the company.

"If someone is getting money and she's publicly supporting an interest that is contrary to their own, I think the optics probably pretty good," Cho said. "She's unbought by any interest group."

Underwood, a Democrat, raised almost $5 million leading up to her 2018 victory over Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren, making her one of the top fund-raisers in a House race last year.

Political consultant Richard Streetman's take: "When the money was being raised, this wasn't a crisis or an issue. What you should happen, when you are called out on it, you then deal with it. $2,000 is not a lot of money in a $5 million campaign.  But if that is going to cause you $10,000 in political damage, just give it to someone, give it to someone else, give it charity."

According to the Federal Election Commission, Underwood has raised more than $1 million so far for her 2020 election bid.Cho said Underwood does not take corporate PAC money.


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