Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More on the Octopus: Big Sugar ... by gimleteye

The Sugar industry controls more than you can imagine in Florida.
The recent disinformation public relations campaign by Big Sugar is extraordinary. (This is our second post on the topic.)

I cannot think of another instance in which a powerful special interest in Florida, outside a pending election or legislation, spent so much money through paid advertisement in media and direct mail.

Big Sugar follows the trends. Voters are not reading newspapers (or blogs). They get their information from increasingly polarized sources of information, especially the Fox News right wing juggernaut.

In doing so, Big Sugar probes the public tolerance for misinformation in ways that we can predict for future crises. For example, in the future when summer temperatures are routinely over 110 degrees, expect Big Oil and Big Coal to follow Big Sugar's example: in between news segments on emergency, extreme weather conditions, expect advertisements: it is "cooperating" in the fight to solve common environmental problems.

The latest Big Sugar ad campaigns should remind you of Big Brother, Upton Sinclair or George Orwell. The industry is probing new territory, confident that there is no resistance to counter its power.

This might also have been predicted by the near total absence of accountability for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In Florida, as in other parts of the nation, there has been neither a prosecution of perpetrators nor any new arrangement of economic order. All was, as before.

The PR campaign noted by the Palm Beach Post, below, represents a new front in Big Sugar's war to cement its prerogatives and power in Florida. Its ability to do so is a tacit acknowledgment of complete control, through the GOP legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

Big Sugar's profit stream depends on control of public processes and government. And it is a war that Big Sugar's command and control PR apparatus wages in every county ringing the Everglades. In 2012, Big Sugar proved it could remove the only GOP county commissioner who favored Everglades protection, Ray Judah, without comment or consequence in broader Florida politics.

Big Sugar ads target areas affected by Lake O discharges into Indian River Lagoon
By Jonathan Mattise -Sunday, July 14, 2013

The ads touting Florida sugar farmers as environmentally friendly are only running in the two TV markets battered by Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases.

While Lake O water pours into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, TV viewers in the West Palm Beach and Fort Myers markets are listening to the sugar industry’s positive take on its Everglades cleanup efforts. Those are the only two regions where the ads are playing, according to the media-buying agency in charge, VancoreJones Communications Inc.

One ad sponsored by the sugar industry, often criticized as a major water polluter, paints a picture of positive Everglades partnerships and cleanup progress. Among the alligators, birds, tractors and scientists pictured, a narrator echoes Gov. Rick Scott’s catch phrase, “It’s working,” before showing the governor at a bill signing.

“We thought it was important that people everywhere in Florida understand that the restoration process to this date has been very successful,” Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar, has said about the ads.

Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, said it’s no coincidence which audience the sugar industry is targeting.

“That’s where they are causing the most damage that is visible to the public,” Wickstrom said.


The ads started about a month after the Army Corps of Engineers began dumping Lake O water east and west, via canals. The corps says discharges are necessary to keep a rising lake from threatening the surrounding Herbert Hoover Dike and from flooding communities to the south.

Environmental advocates contend Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. The lake water puts the lagoon and estuary at dangerously low salinity levels, and it carries phosphorous and nitrogen. The combination of factors can prove deadly for marine wildlife.

Environmentalists also contend taxpayers are footing too much of the Everglades cleanup bill, and sugar isn’t paying its fair share.


The TV ad is one prong of a public relations push from sugar. Florida Sugar Farmers has mailed fliers that tout the same positive spin on the industry’s Everglades work. It’s unclear how much the group spent, or where exactly the mailers went, but they hit both the Fort Myers and Treasure Coast region.

The group also created a website, www.sugarfarmers.com, that repeats the same message.

Despite using the name Florida Sugar Farmers in the ads, the nonprofit behind the campaign is Everglades Forever Partnership Inc. The 501(c)(4) group’s official purpose, according to IRS tax forms, is to “promote welfare and common good and restoration of the Florida Everglades.”

501(c)(4)s have become the most prominent political-spending group. They don’t need to disclose their donors, and can spend unlimited money on political communications.

Everglades Forever Partnership formed in 2003 amid a political tussle over a controversial state Everglades bill. Environmentalists fought a proposal they said would have delayed stricter pollution standards in the Everglades for at least a decade.

After the bill passed, Everglades Forever Partnership mailed a flier saying, “Who can we thank for protecting our Everglades?” On the other side was a photo of the local lawmaker who supported the bill.

The group’s directors, Richard Johnston and Randy Nielsen, run Public Concepts LLC in West Palm Beach. That company has been a lucrative de facto arm of state Republican campaigns. Public Concepts raked in about $1.8 million through their work on mailers, ads, polls, consulting and more for state candidates and committees in the 2012 cycle.


In 1996, the sugar industry prominently dove into political advertising. The group Save Our Everglades managed to get three constitutional amendments aimed at the sugar industry on the ballot by petition. The most controversial would have imposed a penny-a-pound tax on sugar growers.

A week before the election, a sugar-fueled political committee peppered voters with a mailer. It said: “Can you afford a property tax increase? Amendment 4 gives politicians and bureaucrats the power to raise property taxes hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The sugar industry put about $18.9 million into the committee in 1996.

In a subsequent letter, Orlando State Attorney Lawson Lamar said: “It is my strong recommendation that no further misleading materials be distributed to the public and that a statement correcting the misinformation in this document be included in your upcoming campaign mailings or other communications with the public.”

Save Our Everglades said that recommendation was ignored. The amendment failed by an 8 percent margin on the November 1996 ballot. U.S. Sugar and Save our Everglades then traded lawsuits, which the two parties eventually dropped.


The local-market sugar industry ads, running from early June to mid-July, also are airing on cable networks, including CNN, but those costs are harder to track.

West Palm market
Covers: Palm Beach County to north Indian River County; includes Okeechobee
Ad cost: $115,150
Affected waterways: St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Fort Myers market
Covers: Lee, Collier, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry counties
Ad cost: At least $64,795
Affected waterway: Caloosahatchee River

© 2013 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online


Geniusofdespair said...

I am disheartened that more of you are not keeping up with what big sugar is doing to get Rick Scott reelected. This is important stuff.

Anonymous said...

I replaced all my sugar with agave nectar.

Anonymous said...

Boycotting sugar is a great idea.