Monday, June 10, 2013

Big Sugar's Money Ball ... By gimleteye

Investigative journalism makes occasional forays into the spending habits of Florida's wealthiest polluters. Jonathan Mattise, for Treasure Coast Scripps, probes Big Sugar money invested in local politicians north of Palm Beach. The industry spends money on politics because managing water to their interests is key to massive profits.

But managing water is a state responsibility; Big Sugar's interest in counties goes deep into the bread and butter of local politics: land use zoning. While Big Sugar wages water use and water quality battles on many levels of judicial review, fighting tooth and nail to dictate every last term of its water pollution control measures, it wages war on the land use zoning front by ensuring complicit county commissioners are well funded. If not sugar cane, then rock mines and inland ports and shopping centers and subdivisions strategically placed to thwart the aims of environmentalists to protect the Everglades and our rivers and streams and estuaries.

Big Sugar aims to mine the very last red cent of profit on its own terms. Whether there is soil or not, whether there is need or not, whether it is too wet or too dry, whether there are opponents or not.

Big Sugar deploys an army of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants; including many in Miami-Dade County like Ramon Rasco and Joe Klock. Sugar gets what it wants, when it wants it and this year boxed environmental groups into several sharp-edged corners, all the while declaring what great compromisers they are. Sad days for Florida.

Big Sugar money sweetens Treasure Coast lawmakers' campaign funds
By Jonathan Mattise, Treasure Coast Newspapers - Sunday, June 9, 2013

Each Treasure Coast state lawmaker has taken a check from deep-pocketed Big Sugar, an industry environmentalists decry as an Everglades polluter and a roadblock to stopping dirty Lake Okeechobee releases into local waterways.

The eight lawmakers raked in at least a combined $57,750 from sugar for their 2012 campaigns. That doesn¹t include the $728,500 that Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, alone accepted through their political committees, which can receive unlimited money, since 2008.

It¹s an indication of the influence sugar wields in Tallahassee, even over
the Treasure Coast, where the industry¹s decisions affect the health of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Some checks featured names of railroad companies, citrus producers,
international exporters and homemakers, but the money stems back to powerful
sugar conglomerates and executives. Each check is limited to $500 per
election cycle. Some lawmakers received 30 or more $500 donations from a
bevy of differently named companies and individuals, each ultimately under
the sugar umbrella.

U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals Corp., the two biggest sugar players,
gave candidates, committees and parties millions of dollars in 2012 through
various related companies, subsidiaries and executives.

Each company bolsters its clout with at least 30 lobbyists a piece. Florida
Crystals¹ team includes St. Lucie County Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt.

Environmental advocates contend Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow
naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. Instead,
the water is released east into the St. Lucie River via canals and west to
the Caloosahatchee River. The freshwater dumps can cause algae blooms and
fish kills in the river and Indian River Lagoon.

Sugar critics contend the companies don¹t pay their fair share to clean up
the River of Grass, and taxpayers foot the bill.


Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said at Monday¹s forum she never has received
sugar donations, but her contribution records are indicative of how
inter-tangled sugar money is in state elections.

Harrell received $2,500 in donations last election from various branches of
Southern Gardens Citrus, a subsidiary of U.S. Sugar. Southern Gardens is a
big player in Florida state elections, having handed out almost $736,000 in
the 2012 election cycle.

Harrell also took $500 from American Export Corp. The company, which donated
about $195,000 total last election, is listed at both of Florida Crystals¹
West Palm Beach offices. Its purpose is sometimes listed as ³sugar² in
contribution records.

Grimsley collected the most sugar money in her campaign account, with Negron
not far behind. Grimsley¹s list tapped into plenty of U.S. Sugar executives,
who list their hometown as Clewiston, where U.S. Sugar is based. Grimsley is
a popular target as former House budget chief last year. Negron, as current
Senate budget chairman, has seemingly all industries ready to sign checks.

Neither faced a serious challenger in 2012, either.

Negron received far more through five outside fundraising committees, which
he runs with Senate colleagues. The biggest check was $150,000, courtesy of
U.S. Sugar.


Negron, the biggest local beneficiary from sugar donations, said campaign
checks don¹t determine how he votes. For instance, Negron was the lone
senator to vote against HB 999, which blocked lawsuits on 30-year, no-bid
leases for sugar farmers in the northern Everglades. Gov. Rick Scott has
signed the bill into law.

³I think my voting record shows that whether it¹s the insurance industry,
agricultural community, whatever group it is, I will weigh each issue on its
pros and cons and make the best judgment that I believe is possible,² Negron
said during a forum on the lagoon Monday at The Stuart News.

Rep. Larry Lee Jr., a freshman Democrat from Port St. Lucie, said he has a
responsibility to job creation and the sugar industry, as well as
environmental interests.

³So it¹s kind of a balancing act,² Lee said during the forum.

Lee, Harrell and Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, all echoed Monday that
contributions don¹t determine their votes.

Sugar advocates also contend they¹re closer to harmony with
environmentalists than ever. They point to HB 7065, an Everglades deal
extending a tax on sugar farmers and guaranteeing at least $32 million a
year in state restoration money for a decade.

Scott has signed the bill, which environmentalists and agricultural
interests both praised.

³This legislation demonstrates the art of compromise between all parties,²
Robert Coker, senior vice president of U.S. Sugar, said in a March news
release, ³and is a victory for all of us who have been part of Everglades
restoration efforts for 20 years.²


Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers sifted through state campaign finance
records and found dozens of sugar-related donors, almost all of which trace
back to U.S. Sugar Corp. or Florida Crystals Corp. Here is a look at how
some donations are in the industry¹s interest, but don¹t indicate ties to
sugar at first glance.

South Central Florida Express

Subsidiary of U.S. Sugar; short line railroad with 156 miles of track, 14
locomotives, 950 railcars and 54 employees; hauls sugar cane, fertilizer,
lumber, paper and citrus products

Donated to Negron, Altman, Grimsley, Pigman

Donated about $55,250 in 2012 state elections

St. Lucie River Co. Ltd.

Limited partnership listed in state incorporation and campaign finance
records at two West Palm Beach addresses used by Florida Crystals; listed as
partner of Closter Farms Inc., which includes a Fanjul sugar family member
as chairman/director; described as ³sugar² in certain contribution records

Donated to Negron

Donated about $10,500 in 2012 state elections

Florida Pioneer Investments

Listed in campaign finance records at the same West Palm Beach address as
Florida Crystals; includes a Fanjul sugar family member as director

Donated to Alliance for a Strong Economy, a Negron committee

Donated about $91,500 in 2012 state elections


Treasure Coast state lawmakers have benefited from the sugar industry¹s
campaign donations. Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers looked at dozens of
sugar-related donors, but there could be more contributions because of all
the offshoots of companies, executives and industry groups.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Raised for 2012 election: $692,731

At least $15,500 from sugar interests

$690,000 to unlimited contribution committees from sugar interests:

*Alliance for a Strong Economy

$345,000 from sugar interests since 2008

*Freedom First Committee

$235,000 from sugar interests since 2009

*Protect Our Liberty

$60,000 from sugar interests since 2011

*Florida Conservative Majority

$30,000 from sugar interests since 2010

*Florida Conservative Action Committee

$20,000 from sugar interests since 2012

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring

Raised for 2012 election: $914,449

At least $19,500 from sugar interests

At least $38,500 to unlimited contribution committee, Saving Florida¹s
Heartland, from sugar interests since 2008

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park

Raised for 2012 election: $182,824

At least $9,250 from sugar interests

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge

Raised for 2012 election: $234,060

At least $5,500 from sugar interests

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart

Raised for 2012 election: $126,595

At least $3,000 from sugar interests

Rep. Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie

Raised in 2012: $224,030

At least $2,500 from sugar interests

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach

Raised for 2012 election: $146,708

At least $1,500 from sugar interests

Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta

Raised for 2012 election: $135,078

At least $1,000 from sugar interests


Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers assembled the region¹s state lawmakers,
water experts and readers in Stuart June 3 and Vero Beach June 5 to discuss
the future of the Indian River Lagoon. Sugar companies was among the topics

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fanjul family. Big Sugar. Graft.