Un-endorsement: Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick said she wouldn’t take sugar money – then did

Our survey question to Congressional candidates this cycle was pretty simple:

Special interests like Florida’s powerful sugar industry spend lavishly to influence elections, with “Big Sugar,” the phosphate mining industry and big utilities, among others, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to aid candidates who then back their preferred legislation – too often, at the expense of clean water. Do you agree your campaign will accept no contributions from any source with ties to polluting industries including, but not limited to, the sugar, phosphate and utility industries?

Many candidates responded “no,” saying they would not take such funding. Problem is, some of them didn’t mean it.

And all you have to do is query the FEC campaign finance database to find out.

As such, as of today, we rescind our endorsement of Rep. Sheila Cherilus-McCormick, who is running in U.S. House District 20, which encompasses much of western Palm Beach and Broward counties.

This, because after filling out her survey and saying she wouldn’t accept money from (among others) Big Sugar – she just did.

FEC records show that on Aug. 3, well after she’d answered our questionnaire, Cherfilus-McCormick’s campaign committee, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick for Congress Inc., received five separate donations from sugar PACs, totaling $15,000:

  • $5,000 from the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC
  • $5,000 from the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC
  • $3,000 from the American Sugar Cane League of USA Inc. PAC
  • $1,000 from the Florida Sugar Cane League PAC
  • $1,000 from Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative Sugar PAC

This, on top of two $1,000 donations from sugar PACs she’d already received back in January – one from the American Sugar Cane League of USA Inc. PAC, and one from the American Sugarbeet Growers Association PAC – as well as four donations totaling $11,600 from members of the Fanjul family – owners of the Fanjul Corp., parent company of (among others) Florida Crystals.

We’d already given Cherfilus-McCormick a “mixed” rating in our voter guide on campaign finance due to those earlier sugar donations. And we’d reached out to her campaign to raise the possibility that she might return that money. Instead, the campaign accepted even more sugar cash.

As a result, we’ve also changed her campaign finance rating, giving her the “dirty money” ranking.

We’re disappointed. We’d lauded Cherfilus-McCormick when she initially won her seat last fall in the special election to replace the late Alcee Hastings; her campaign was largely self-financed, and she didn’t take money from Big Sugar. It was an encouraging sign in a region so dominated by sugar companies.

Now, though, we also have to wonder about the veracity of her answer to our fifth survey question – which asked whether candidates would support efforts to reform and ultimately end sugar price supports in the Farm Bill.

For the record, Cherfilus-McCormick said she would support such efforts. But we wonder if this, too, will change.

Florida and indeed the nation needs fewer politicians beholden to Big Sugar and other corporate interests – not more.