Big Sugar spent millions in 2023; most went to PACs

With the 2024 Florida Legislative session bearing down — it starts next week! — we figured we’d take a look at what our old friends at Big Sugar spent buying influence in 2023.

While totals for the fourth quarter of the year won’t be available for a few months, state data shows that through the end of September, the “big three” — U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida — had spent $2.76 million on the upcoming 2024 election.

We expect that figure to be dwarfed by what the industry spends between now and November.

The bulk of the 2023 spending was done by U.S. Sugar. The Clewiston-based corporation spent $2.2 million through September, according to state records; the company’s Southern Gardens subsidiary and its South Central Florida Express rail line combined spent another $4,000.

Florida Crystals spent $518,710, state records show, while the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative spent $16,000 in the first 9 months of 2023.

Where did the money go? Most of it went to PACs, political action committees. Top recipients were:

  • Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC — $851,875 ($750,000 from U.S. Sugar, $101,875 from Florida Crystals)
  • Florida Jobs PAC — $350,000 ($250,000 from U.S. Sugar, $100,000 from Florida Crystals)
  • Republican Party of Florida — $268,645 ($175,000 from U.S. Sugar, $93,645 from Florida Crystals)
  • Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign — $150,000 (from U.S. Sugar)
  • Floridians for Economic Advancement — $110,000 (from Florida Crystals)

Each of the following PACs got $100,000:

  • Associated Industries of Florida PAC
  • Keep Florida Free PC
  • Protect Florida PAC
  • Florida Chamber of Commerce Alliance
  • Friends of Wilton Simpson

In addition, while almost no money went directly to candidates, sugar money did help fill the coffers of several political action committees run by state officials — like “Friends of Wilton Simpson” noted above; Simpson is Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Sen. Ben Albritton, Senate Majority Leader and next year’s Senate President, collected $50,000 from U.S. Sugar for his “Friends of Ben Albritton” PAC; another PAC run by Albritton, “Advancing Florida Agriculture,” took in another $50,000 from U.S. Sugar. Advancing Florida Agriculture also got $5,000 from the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative.

Friends of Ashley Moody received $25,000 from U.S. Sugar, while Friends of Blaise Ingoglia; Friends of Corey Simon; Friends of Erin Grall; Friends of Jonathan Martin; and Friends of Lori Berman all got $10,000 donations from U.S. Sugar.

Friends of Lauren Melo received $5,000 from U.S. Sugar, while Friends of Jim Boyd got $5,000 from Florida Crystals.

All these PACs, of course, distribute their funds to candidates or other PACs; and it becomes difficult if not impossible to connect any one candidate to any one company or industry. Who does U.S. Sugar support? Perhaps look at who the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC supports, in that U.S. Sugar is such a big contributor; but of course U.S. Sugar isn’t the only contributor.

Rinse and repeat until you’ve got a fully sympathetic — and sycophantic — legislature.

This is how the “Dirty Money” game is played. And that’s why we’re looking to upend the board.