Why is Nikki Fried getting so much money from sugar-related PACs?

Late last month we issued our voter guides for Florida’s Aug. 23 primary election. Between now and election day we reserve the right to update the guides as new information comes to light.

We did just that today, in regards to Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried.

We’ve maintained her ranking of one “check,” indicating we “favor” her. But when it comes to campaign finance, we’ve rescinded her “clean” ranking – and replaced it with a “dirty money” rating.

This, after VoteWater staff and volunteers examined records from her political action committee, Florida Consumers First. While Fried the candidate has taken in about $3.4 million this cycle, most of it from small donors, Florida Consumers First has taken in $6.5 million — and more than $500,000 of that comes from PACs that receive substantial support from Big Sugar and other polluting industries.

According to state records, since 2019 Florida Consumers First has gotten:

  • $15,000 from Associated Industries of Florida, a powerhouse PAC funded directly by U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals, and indirectly by several other PACs linked to the industry. It also gets significant contributions from utility companies and phosphate mining firms.
  • $55,000 from the Voice of Florida Business PAC, a smaller PAC which itself receives significant support from Associated Industries of Florida, as well as direct support from Florida Crystals.
  • $5,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC, a committee which in the last month alone received $250,000 from Florida Crystals and $100,000 from U.S. Sugar. (U.S. Sugar gave another $250,000 to the PAC just two months earlier, on May 9).
  • $95,000 from the Florida Prosperity Fund PAC, another committee that’s gotten numerous six-figure donations from sugar companies, along with additional money from NextEra Energy (FPL’s parent company) and other energy interests.
  • $135,000 from Floridians for Economic Advancement, a PAC that’s gotten $200,000 from Florida Crystals since early May, along with contributions from NextEra and several of the PACs noted above.
  • $80,000 from Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, which between July and December 2021 got a total of $400,000 from Florida Crystals, plus additional thousands from NextEra, phosphate mining giant The Mosaic Company and more.
  • $87,500 from the Florida Alliance for Better Government, which is heavily funded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Florida Jobs PAC (see below) and similar interests.
  • $20,000 from the Florida Jobs PAC, which got a $250,000 contribution from U.S. Sugar March 14, $100,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC last November, and similar support.
  • $10,000 from Floridians United for our Children’s Future, which between July and December 2021 got $400,000 from Florida Crystals and another $200,000 from U.S. Sugar.
  • $5,500 from the Fighting for Florida Jobs PAC, which itself received significant support from many of the above-mentioned PACs, including the Florida Prosperity Fund, Floridians for Economic Advancement and Associated Industries of Florida.

So while it’s correct to say that Fried has gotten no direct support from Big Sugar — she’s gotten massive amounts of indirect support in contributions from PACs heavily funded by sugar and other special interests.

This, of course, is how the likes of Big Sugar “washes” its money, filtering campaign contributions though dozens (or more) of PACs, making it harder to trace and providing a layer of plausible deniability for both the companies and the politicians getting the money.

“Hey, I didn’t take Big Sugar money!” says a candidate.

Not directly, no.

But industry largesse helps fuel the campaign all the same.

And where that’s the case, it’s legitimate to ask: To what extent will the politician who receives this money vote in line with what the oh-so-generous donors want?

That’s a question we’d put to Fried — and everyone else taking money from Big Sugar via these backdoor channels.