How special interests play a shadowy game to get what they want

Want to know why and how special interests almost always get their way in Florida, even when the public desperately wants to protect the natural environment?

Look no further than the story reported by the Miami Herald this week.

Reporter Sarah Blaskey chronicles how a self-styled conservative, pro-business “news” site, The Capitolist, was in reality a shill for Florida Power & Light.

The utility giant used intermediaries from an Alabama political and consulting firm, Matrix LLC, to bankroll and control The Capitolist, advocate “for rate hikes, agitate for legislative favors, slam political opponents and eliminate anything — even home solar panels — that the publicly traded utility worried might undermine its near monopoly on selling power in the Sunshine State,” according to the Herald’s investigative reporting.

Shell companies were used to funnel money to The Capitolist; FPL executives “suggested” stories and strategies that showed up as headline news on the website, attacking FPL critics and advancing the company line, according to a massive leak of documents obtained by the Herald.

“Fake news”? You’re soaking in it.

The Herald quotes Stephen Ward, founder of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who called this “plain old lying.” FPL, Matrix and The Capitolist denied everything, in carefully crafted language.

Unfortunately, this is par for the corrupt course here in Florida.

The Capitolist itself has taken potshots at VoteWater’s sister organization, Friends of the Everglades, as well as several other environmental groups across Florida. They’ve run interference not just for FPL, but for Big Sugar.

Late last year the Orlando Sentinel reported on how “synthetic grassroots” organizations designed to look like legitimate groups of aggrieved citizens front for FPL — and other special interests, including sugar giant Florida Crystals.

Other stories abound of how special interests game the system, shovel corporate cash to “dark money” groups, kneecap critics — and ultimately get what they want, be it rate hikes, subsidies, favorable legislation or other items on the corporate wish list.

The Miami Herald has done a valuable public service by turning over this rock and finding a bunch of worms. But the dishonest game will continue, and we — and you — need to be vigilant.

The health of our waters and our future depends on it.