These ‘Polluter PACs’ got (and gave) the most ‘dirty money’

VoteWater’s Dirty Money Project, announced last summer, is aiming to publish our research — including a searchable database so you can see how much money from polluting special interests your local politicians are taking — in time for Florida’s August primary.

But as we’ve gone along, a few things have caught our attention — none moreso than the outsized role political action committees, or PACs, play in our political system.

In March, we reported that Big Sugar, the phosphate mining industry, the big utilities and the “sprawl” industry had donated tens of millions of dollars to PACs from 2018-2023. Now, thanks to our research partners at the Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment at Stetson University, we know which PACs are getting the bulk of that money — and we’ll be calling out these “Polluter PACs” in our upcoming report.

For example, the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) PAC got more than $6.2 million from polluters we’re tracking between 2018-2023, with more than half of that coming from U.S. Sugar ($2 million) and Florida Crystals ($1.6 million).

Since 2018 the AIF PAC has spent just under $10 million, with much of it going to the Republican Party of Florida ($1.2 million) and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee ($1.6 million). But it also gave to other PACs that support specific candidates — including $505,000 to Friends of Wilton Simpson (Florida’s Republican Agriculture Commissioner and likely 2026 gubernatorial candidate); and $420,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis.

The Voice of Florida Business PAC got $5.1 million from companies we’re tracking between 2018-2023, including $2.3 million from Florida Crystals and $1.5 million from U.S. Sugar. During the same span, the PAC spent $10.2 million, including $1.65 million to the Republican Party of Florida, along with contributions to candidate PACs including $680,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, $230,000 to Friends of Ashley Moody, and $490,000 to Wilton Simpson’s PAC, Jobs for Florida.

Other Polluter PACs, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC and the Florida Prosperity Fund, got similar amounts from special interests — and spent even more supporting other PACs and candidates.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our research shows Florida’s most powerful politicians often get the most Dirty Money. But that begs the question: Are these politicians powerful BECAUSE they got Dirty Money; or did they get Dirty Money BECAUSE they are powerful?

But let’s just say that if politicians wore sponsor jackets like NASCAR drivers, some of Florida’s top politicos would have no room left for additional patches.

Much more to come later this summer. Meanwhile, if you’d like to support our research, please consider donating or becoming a member of VoteWater. It takes time, effort and money to track all this campaign cash — and your support will help us get the job done.