Big Sugar spending big ahead of Nov. 8 election

Don’t look now, but the fall election is just around the corner.

And Florida’s powerful sugar industry is doing everything it can to guarantee that on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, the winner will be: Big Sugar.

Since Jan. 1, state records show the industry — U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and their subsidiaries — has contributed $3.5 million to candidates for state office.

At the federal level, the U.S. Sugar Company Employee Stock Ownership Plan, the Florida Sugar Cane League PAC, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida PAC and Florida Crystals have given another $734,000 to candidates and political committees both inside and outside of Florida — with at least seven other sugar PACs funneling another $200,000 to Congressional candidates in Florida.

All told, the industry has spent at least $4.5 million this cycle.

The sugar barons give generously to both sides of the aisle — who says bipartisanship is dead? Of the 38 state-level candidates who received contributions of $1,000 or more from the sugar companies or their subsidiaries, 14 were Democrats, 24 Republicans.

Big Sugar gave $135,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, but just $12,500 to the Florida Democratic Party.

Which candidate has gotten the most money directly from sugar since Jan. 1? That would be Republican Wilton Simpson, who just wrapped up his term as Senate President and is running for the post of Agriculture Commissioner. Direct sugar contributions to Simpson from sugar companies total $9,000, while his campaign committee, Friends of Wilton Simpson, got another $53,669.

But that’s only part of the picture.

For the biggest recipients of sugar industry largesse aren’t individual candidates — it’s the political action committees the industry uses to cloak the true scope of its political giving.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC, for example, has long been funded heavily by sugar interests. Since the beginning of the year, sugar companies have given over $950,000 to the PAC — nearly 20 percent of all the industry’s political donations during the period.

Other PACs getting big bucks from Big Sugar:

  • Floridians for Economic Advancement PAC, $400,000
  • Associated Industries of Florida PAC, $350,000
  • Education for All PAC, $325,000
  • Associated Industries of Florida PAC, $250,000
  • Florida Jobs PAC, $250,000
  • Equality Champions PAC, $200,000
  • Florida Accountability Project PAC, $200,000

These PACs then turn around and donate to candidates or their campaign committees; so the contributions coming directly from Big Sugar are ultimately deceptively small.

As noted, since Jan. 1 Friends of Wilton Simpson has gotten $53,669 directly from sugar companies. But the committee has also gotten $250,000 from the Associated Industries of Florida, $60,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC, $55,000 from the Florida Jobs PAC, $45,000 from the Education for All PAC, $25,000 from Equality Champions, $25,000 from the Florida Accountability Project, $20,000 from Floridians for Economic Advancement.

In other words, the PACs, heavily funded by sugar, have given roughly 10 times the amount Big Sugar gives directly.

At the federal level, top recipients include Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-20 ($16,000); Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-26 ($15,500); Lois Frankel, D-22, $14,500; and Vern Buchanan, R-16, $14,500.

And that doesn’t include contributions from outside PACs.

This is nothing new; it happens election year after election year.

But there’s no clearer explanation of why Florida agricultural and water supply policy seems so heavily tilted in favor of Big Sugar’s interests, and why our waters are in the state they’re in.

Dirty money means dirty water. And Floridians deserve better.