Tuesday, March 01, 2016

US Sugar and the Florida GOP: Follow The Money ... by gimleteye

Seeking to understand the influence of US Sugar through state campaign finance data provides a keyhole to Florida campaign finance abuse on steroids.

Corporations give individually and through top executives to candidates and to various forms of political committees in Florida. Political action committees obscure who and what causes, candidates, and entities are receiving money. In fact, passing donations between corporations, political action committees, and trade associations is like weaving a fabric that binds an immoveable political orthodoxy. In Florida, that orthodoxy is Republican.

On June 27, 2012, US Sugar contributed $125,000 to a political committee called Partnership for Florida’s Future, identified in the state campaign finance database as “an electioneering communications organization”.

Two months later, in August 7, US Sugar contributed an additional $200,000. That same month, Florida Jobs PAC contributed $400,000 to Partnership for Florida’s Future.

On August 7, Partnership for Florida’s Future contributed $225,000 to another political action committee called Florida First, and on August 9th, an additional $70,000.

That November, 24 year county commissioner Ray Judah, from Lee County, was defeated by a barrage of negative TV campaigning by Florida First. Judah had never heard of the PAC and in an interview, he said it was the first time that large, anonymous political action committee had participated in a local county commission election. It was also the first election cycle after the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, unleashing a tidal wave of unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns through dark money vehicles like the one US Sugar used against Ray Judah.

Only four years earlier, Judah had been alone among GOP public officials to advocate and to support the state buyout of 187,000 acres of lands owned by US Sugar. The land sale was approved by shareholders of Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, a charitable organization based in Flint, Michigan that controls US Sugar. Or should.

Judah’s defeat was part of a coordinated effort by Big Sugar to halt the purchase of sugar lands south of Florida’s polluted lake. If the land sale had been completed, the state of Florida would have been on the way to solving the crisis that materialized in 2016 crisis: billions of gallons per day of toxic stormwater released from Lake Okeechobee into nearby estuaries, coating both Florida coasts with scum.

In Oct. 2009, US Sugar contributed to Florida Jobs PAC repeatedly: Oct. 2009, $50,000, June 2010, $75,000, January 2012, $150,000, July 2012, an additional $75,000. During this time frame, the biggest contributors to Florida Jobs PAC were Publix Supermarkets, Florida Power and Light, and the US Chamber of Commerce. In January 2014, US Sugar contributed $50,000 to Florida Jobs PAC, $20,000 one month later, another $50,000 on August 20th, and $10,000 in September.

From 2004 to 2013, Florida Jobs PAC — with 495 payments — acted as the mother ship of contributions to Republican candidates and to Republican causes. It is likely there were other GOP mother ships during this time, but one would need a Ven diagram and a team of investigative journalists to sort how the conduits connect.

An analysis of the Florida Campaign Database shows that Florida Jobs PAC quickly became a favorite entity of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and its various political entities. During this time period, Florida Jobs PAC received a total of $5.6 million in 130 contributions (Florida Dept. of State, Division of Elections, Campaign Finance Database). An analysis of PAC expenditures shows that the Florida Jobs PAC paid nearly 400 vendors, candidates, causes, political organizations, and a diverse collection of political entities.

Over the nine year period from 2004 to 2013, Florida Jobs PAC paid to the Florida Chamber of Commerce and its various political entities, over $1.1 million. In 2014, the Florida Chamber of Commerce turned around and sent $466,645 to Florida Jobs PAC. So much money flowed between Florida Jobs PAC to the Chamber, one can only conclude the Florida Chamber of Commerce is an agent of the Florida GOP. (To be fair, during this time frame Florida Jobs PAC did contribute $86,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.)

When Florida Jobs PAC contributed to Republican candidates, its contributions were only to mark territory and establish handshakes. During this time period, the PAC paid more than $1.9 million to the Republican Party of Florida, the GOP House, the GOP Senate Majority and related entities. It also contributed substantially to other conservative GOP entities and to infrastructure components of GOP elections: Cherry Communications, a Republican polling and opposition research firm, and Contribution Link, a GOP data mining operation. Florida Jobs PAC gave to many entities whose purpose is unclear: like Citizens for Economic Progress, Floridians for Principled Government, and Let’s Get To Work — a PAC supporting Gov. Rick Scott.

On Sept. 27, 2013, US Sugar Corporation contributed $25,000 to a PAC associated with rising GOP star Adam Putnam called the Sunshine State Leadership Project. That committee was succeeded by a similarly named, Sunshine State Leadership Fund. US Sugar contributed $10,000 to that committee on May 29, 2015. Agriculture Secretary Putnam created another committee, called Florida Grown in 2015. The Sunshine State Leadership Project contributed $394,615.97 to Florida Grown on April 30, 2015. A month later, US Sugar Corporation contributed $50,000 to Florida Grown.

These ties that bind, not only bind Republican elected officials to the GOP in a preordained order that brooks no dissent, they also bind taxpayers and voters of all political persuasions. It is wrong. It has to change, and it can only be changed by informed voters. Between political parties in Florida, this is not a case of “pick your poison”. This is a structure of business elites that control Florida politics irrespective of what the majority of Floridians want. There are no clearer examples of “corporations more powerful than people” than what we have detailed here.

1 comment:

John Dwyer said...

People are more powerful than money when they arise like lions from slumber and shake off their chains. Miami-Dade citizens can now ban fracking. Although powerful corporations wanted it, SB 318 is dead. Ignore Mr. Richter's sour grapes speech after withdrawing SB 318 yesterday. We each in our own communities are empowered to protect ourselves from the oil & gas industries. We are already safer and fast-track fracking is dead. Not only that, our legislators are on notice that they are the people's representatives, not their bosses.