(Updated 11:40 AM, Sept. 21 2016) Only Republicans can end the psychological warfare practiced by the GOP and its top funders against the interests of voters. Case in point: Marco Rubio and clean water in Florida.
It is an article of faith among Republican voters that government should not pick winners and losers in economic competition. Much of the Republican voter frustration that propelled Donald Trump to the presidential nomination, above party favorites like Marco Rubio, sprang from discontent with undelivered promises of the values party.
How this betrayal happened, and is continuing to happen, is reflected in the way that public policies have been distorted by Republicans to favor special interests. Like Big Sugar. Here, GOP leaders in Florida have recklessly interfered with the rights of millions of Floridians to enjoy clean, safe fresh water -- now polluted because those same leaders pursued policies and laws damaging to the public interest.
In 2015, the Republican state legislature fundamentally weakened water pollution standards, in a re-write of state water quality law that put big polluters, like Big Sugar, first.
In Congress, Florida Republicans lead by Senator Rubio successfully thwarted efforts by the US EPA to tighten standards on water pollution. Rubio, in 2010, was pulled off the Republican back bench by the Fanjul/ Florida Crystals interests to stop environmental rules and land acquisition plans that conflicted with the family's business model; to shift pollution containment costs to the maximum extent possible to taxpayers.
In early 2016, historic flooding, likely exacerbated by climate change denied by Rubio -- caused the massive lake in the center of the state, Lake Okeechobee, to rise rapidly during what is normally dry season in Florida. The consequence of the rainfall forced state and federal water managers to release hundreds of billions of dirty, contaminated water down Florida's coastal estuaries, impacting both property owners on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts who traditionally lean toward Republican.
The solution to the water crisis in Florida had been in hand, through the plan to acquire US Sugar lands and funding secured through a multi-billion dollar pool of public money, approved by more than 75% of Florida voters in a 2014 constitutional referendum. In 2015, Republican lawmakers refused to allocate the money as voters demanded and water managers, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, x'd the deal made by his predecessor, Charlie Crist. Scott -- who plans to run for US Senate in 2018 -- is embedded with Big Sugar.
Then the rains fell, all the way from north of Lake Okeechobee to Miami-Dade. The pain materialized at once in local areas impacted by polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee, laden with decades of legacy pollution back pumped from sugar fields south of the lake.
In a Republican county on the Atlantic coast, a Republican challenger emerged in a local county commission race to fight for clean water.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a well-known Martin County realtor who had been mayor of a small town in Martin County. She had all the qualifications to take on a incumbent local county commissioner, Doug Smith, who formed a bulwark protecting Big Sugar's interest in controlling local government, especially where water pollution upstream could impact downstream politics.
Thurlow-Lippisch advocated for and strongly supports taking significant land out of sugarcane production to use for water treatment and storage so that Florida's fragile coastal estuaries, rivers and Everglades don't need to be used as escape valves in order to keep Big Sugar's profits intact at the expense of taxpayers and downstream businesses.
Thurlow-Lippisch raised a competitive war chest and was polling favorably to win the GOP primary in August when, unexpectedly, a high school student named Chase Lurgio joined the race as a spoiler. Lurgio, according to a recent blog post by Thurlow-Lippisch, was likely recruited by a Big Sugar loyalist and director of the Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce.
In a analysis after her loss, Thurlow-Lippisch decoded how political action committees tag-teamed against her. Using the fake candidate Lurgio and a series of last-minute attack mailers to likely voters, Big Sugar made sure that taxpayers would be denied an elected officer whose stated aim was to protect water quality from Lake Okeechobee pollution upstream.
The attacks were indirectly funded by Big Sugar through a series of political action committees that legally launder contributions and defy the intent of public disclosure laws.
On her blog, Thurlow-Lippisch published a series of analyses culled from publicly available information on the state election data site to show what happened to her campaign. Her work is a public service, including this recent documentation:
Crystal Mills Lucas is now facing a similar "hit job" by Big Sugar, involving the same political action committees nested like Russian dolls that took out Thurlow-Lippisch. Lucas is a Democrat running for state house district 83, also in Martin County.
A former school teacher who loves the outdoors, surfs and fishes and recreates on Florida's once pristine coast, Lucas became outraged and energized to run for public office as a result of the pollution now coursing through waterways she shares with so many Floridians and tourists and local small businesses. Her website describes her reason for running:
Crystal Lucas was born and raised in Florida. She has a deep connection to this state and wants to fight to protect it and help it to prosper. Crystal has been on the forefront of speaking out for the Treasure Coast in the last 10 years and will continue that effort when she is elected. She brings the outlook of a community leader and servant. She proudly serves as the Vice-Chair of the Martin County Local Planning Agency and the Chair of the Martin County Affordable Housing Committee.A recent attack mailer against Lucas is filled with straight-out lies, claiming that she is, herself, a polluter. The allegations against Lucas is a flat-out lie. In the meantime, the incumbent who has never in her political career ventured to the green side is now advertising on TV, radio and in direct mail as an environmentalist though she has no record to show for it.
She brings the outlook of an educator. Crystal has taught High School in Martin County public schools and now is teaching at Indian River State College. She understands what it means to be a business owner. Crystal and her husband own and operate a marine woodworking business that has thrived and grown. She is a mother who understands the issues facing families today. She is raising her daughter to be an independent leader and wants to work to protect the rights of women.
She is involved in the community. Speaking out against the discharges from Lake Okeechobee, founding a marine focused youth film festival, acting as the route director for the Marathon of the Treasure Coast and diligently working to get Amendment 1 passed in 2014.
Lucas, as is often the case with first-time political challengers, lacks the campaign war chest to quickly respond to attacks through paid response or advertisements on television or mailers. Meanwhile, the incumbent, with scant history standing up for the environment, is slip-streaming on the wave of public revulsion at pollution that GOP policies in Florida caused in the first place, creating losers among property owners and tourism-based businesses.
In an email, Lucas says two other hit pieces have landed in recent days; one challenging her service as a community volunteer and another suggesting terrorist sympathies. Both were put out by a political committee, Floridians For Economic Opportunity.
According to the State of Florida campaign finance database, Floridians For Economic Opportunity is a Tallahassee-based political committee that received a $50,000 contribution on Oct. 12, 2016, from a second PAC, the First Amendment Fund.
The First Amendment Fund is registered at 5730 Corporate Way, Suite 214, West Palm Beach, FL. Kim Peckfelder is the registered agent and named as treasurer. On September 28, 2016, the First Amendment Fund received a $75,000 contribution from a third, involved PAC: Protect Florida Families.
Protect Florida Families is also registered at 5730 Corporate Way, West Palm Beach. Its treasurer is also Kim Peckfelder.
Protect Florida Families received a $150,000 check on September 20, 2016 from a fourth political action committee, Treasure Coast Alliance. That PAC is also registered at 5730 Corporate Way, West Palm Beach. Its treasurer: Kim Peckfelder. Its chair: Florida Senate President Joe Negron, Jr.
One doesn't have to be a tea leaf reader to reach a conclusion: political strong-arming that violates the sense of campaign finance law by nesting political action committees like Russian dolls. The campaign committees all have the same face to line up behind the exterior, obvious winner: Big Sugar -- or else.
Big Sugar doesn't show up in the Division of Elections records as a direct contributor to Treasure Coast Alliance, but it doesn't have to.
The Treasure Coast Alliance has raised millions of dollars in recent years. It is funded by many entities doing business with the State of Florida including the Republican Party of Florida and various industry associations that prominently feature contributions of Big Sugar.
Big Sugar spends to protect its profits ahead of taxpayers in Florida's polluted coastal areas. Although the amount Big Sugar spends in each campaign cycle to lock down its political privileges is minuscule compared to the billion dollar costs to GOP and Democratic voters who are property owners and whose health is at risk by pollution, campaign finance law in Florida neither recognizes the imbalances nor provides an opportunity for grievances to be aired; not when the system is so obviously "rigged".
Big Sugar depends on Florida's fragmented media markets to ensure that the trail of woe is never fully mapped to connect voters -- particularly Republican voters -- with what manifestly harms their own interests. These voters time and again vote against their own interests.
This is a form of psychological warfare that only an educated, informed electorate can bring to a stop. That won't happen any time soon, if Big Sugar and its array of lobbyists and consultants have anything to say about it.
The first on voters' list: US Senator Marco Rubio. If you are a Republican angry about the status quo, take this first step: stop voting a Republican ticket that works against your interests. That list begins with Marco Rubio.