Is Gov. DeSantis taking backdoor sugar money?

Call this a master class in how politics really works in Florida. And yet another reason we should all Vote Water.

On Substack, Jason Garcia’s “Seeking Rents” takes a look at “Associated Industries of Florida,” a lobbying group whose name might suggest a broad base of business support.

That’s not the case at all:

Since 2019, campaign-finance records show that Associated Industries of Florida has spent about $26 million on Florida elections through five political committees controlled by AIF executives.

More than 80 percent of that money has come from just six companies: Florida Crystals ($6.7 million) and U.S. Sugar ($4.5 million); for-profit hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc. ($4.9 million); electric utility Florida Power & Light ($2.3 million); theme-park owner/current Republican rhetorical whipping boy Walt Disney World ($2 million); and health insurer Florida Blue ($1.3 million).

AIF bills itself as “The Voice of Florida Business.” It might be more accurately described as the voice of six Florida businesses.

Garcia goes on to call these firms “the companies that rule Tallahassee” and recounts how the lawmaking process is rigged in their favor. Bills like the  notorious SB 2508, which among other things sought to protect and preserve Big Sugar’s privileges when it comes to Lake Okeechobee water supply, get rammed through. Other legislation that might threaten the Big Six’s bottom line doesn’t even get a hearing.

It amounts to a government of, by and for the biggest corporations in Florida.

It also poses a bit of a challenge for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, Garcia notes, has cultivated an image of himself as the rare leader willing to stand up to Big Sugar. That may be a wee deciptive:

DeSantis doesn’t raise money from the sugar industry. But he does raise money from Associated Industries of Florida. Lots of it.

Since DeSantis was elected, AIF’s political committees have contributed more than $2.1 million to “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” the governor’s fundraising committee. And more than $4 in every $10 spent by those AIF committees came from Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar.

And now AIF wants DeSantis to sign that Lake Okeechobee legislation that’s so important to Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar.

That would be SB 2508.

The smart money would be on DeSantis not signing the legislation; if he doesn’t do so, it’ll become law anyway. So he can pretend he’s standing on principle… and the result will be the same.

But then, maybe he will sign it; as Garcia notes, he did sign the expanded “right to farm” law, SB 88, last year – a law which protected the sugar industry from public health lawsuits over its practice of burning the cane fields prior to harvest.

It will be interesting to see what stance – if any – DeSantis takes on Big Sugar this time around. Maybe he’ll be willing to take on the industry; maybe he won’t.

But as Garcia notes, the money from AIF – that is, from the sugar companies – is likely to keep lining his campaign coffers either way.