Florida Democrats Addiction to Sugar Money

NY Times Photo
NY Times Photo

The Everglades ecosystem is arguably the most important driver of Florida’s sustainability. The one of a kind environmental feature is unique to Florida and Florida alone. But many southeast Florida Democrats have consistently ignored the need to protect and preserve the River of Grass and have become in the process become addicted to sugar money in a way that many in the GOP has not.

No industry has done more damage to the fragile Everglades system than big sugar. Runoff from sugar has caused many of the problems the Everglades now faces. The following is from Friends of the Everglades:

The Florida Independent published a report on May 2nd, that deserves wide attention, “Everglades suffering from sulfate runoff, Methylmercury contamination”. Friends of the Everglades has been studying issues related to mercury contamination in the Everglades. Data is accumulating that sugar farms are a major source of contamination, through the use of sulfur in their farming practices. The Florida legislature has proven intransigent on mercury contamination as it has on phosphorous, the subject of more than two decades of litigation in federal courts. Friends of the Everglades believes that the polluters must be held accountable for the full costs of their pollution. In fact, that provision was put in the Florida Constitution through a ballot referendum approved by Florida voters in 1996 but it has never been enacted by the legislature. Although sugar growers complain that pollution comes from other sources and not their lands, it is clear that much, much more could be done to keep pollution on private lands and not flowing into lands owned by the public, including Everglades National Park and the national wildlife refuges.

In the final quarter of 2011 the FDP raised in $45,000 in sugar money, and currently have a Chairman in Rod Smith who closely aligned himself with sugar both as a legislator and as a candidate for Governor in 2006.

Despite a reputation that has been well earned that Republicans are less environmentally conscious than Democrats, In southern Florida more often than not, those who have strongly opposed Big Sugar are Republicans. Many south Florida Republicans supported “Polluters Pay” legislation and constitutional amendments. Conservative arguments were made stating making polluters pay would keep property taxes lower and enhance economic development in way of tourism dollars and other eco-related industries. As a liberal, I subscribe to these arguments even if made by conservatives.

Many southern Florida Republicans including Congressmen E. Clay Shaw, Porter Goss (later CIA Director) and Dan Miller strongly opposed subsidies for the sugar industry and supported Everglades Restoration.  The same can be said for several southern Florida Republicans who have served in the state legislature over the past 15 years. At the same time, big sugar has created influence within the Democratic Party  particularly in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This has relieved the pressure on the companies whose influence on damaging the Everglades as it once was, cannot be disputed.

The lawyers and lobbyists from southeast Florida who worked hard to promote, protect and preserve the Everglades in the 1990s and 2000s were disproportionately Republicans. (While those interested in preserving the Everglades from outside southern Florida were disproportionately Democrats) While many Republicans, including Jeb Bush remained bad on the environment, Governor Charlie Crist was excellent on Everglades related issues and he could draw his lineage from Republicans who as conservationists put protection of our natural resources over campaign cash and polluters.

In the past some Democrats have told me that sugar money is essential to funding the party and legislative candidates because the Republicans have all the other corporate money locked up. Democratic candidates, party executive committees, local Democratic clubs and partisan functions have all been recipients of sugar’s generous contributions in recent years.

I myself have been guilty of holding my nose while working for Democratic candidates who received sugar money and worked to protect the sugar industry, despite my publicly stated qualms about sugar going back 20 years. After all these candidates were more closely aligned with my philosophy on other issues.  However, I have no hesitation in saying the Democrats in southeast Florida have been worse on environmental issues since 1990 than local Republicans. Why? It is difficult to claim a direct quid pro-quo, but it could be the over emphasis of Democrats on social issues and the need to raise campaign cash or be “liked” in Tallahassee. Or it could be the fear that Environmental protection buts heads with labor and protecting big sugar means protecting jobs? But I would argue very strongly the amount of jobs created by eco-tourism, and a healthy ecosystem will trump any job loses in industries that pollute.

Nobody believes sugar should be prohibited to playing politically. But when the influence of one industry trumps the greater good as it has for years, Democrats have to think twice about whether this money is worth taking. In the second quarter of 2012 many liberal Democrats including stalwarts like Rep. Mark Pafford took money from sugar. It is disappointing to see so many progressives not understand the importance of protecting the Everglades and restoring Florida’s ecosystem to something bordering on sustainable- something it is not right now.

27 thoughts on “Florida Democrats Addiction to Sugar Money”

  1. During the 2006 election, Democratic leadership made it know of the
    relationslhip with Big Sugar and Rob Smith…..it’s always difficult to make the right decisions when one’s contributions and/or salary depends on you not understanding it…..

  2. Do your homework and find out where the votes have been from these folks. You will also find that Pafford has a perfect reord on Everglades and environmental issues and has consistently received the endorsements of Sierra, and other meaningful environmental organizations. He has also been removed from those agricultural/environmental committees each time because he actually knows what he talks about and speaks out. At the end of the day, its how they vote. Follow the money but do your home work.

  3. These tree huggers are insane. Running our party. Sugar creates jobs and stimulates the local economy. Unlike other companies who go straight Republicans they have hired and promoted Democrats and funded our party? All the other issues this site drones on about have been helped by Sugar and the money they have spent on charitable things.

    The everglades thugs who believe a swamp is more important than jobs and people have not done anything for our party, for our people or charities. I stand with sugar every day of the week. Without development and more homes our economy crashes.

    You have shown your ignorance and short sightedness. No one cares about the everglades outside a few tree lovers, hunters and redneck Florida crackers.

    Krishnaiyer you are a loser who is out of politics because you have no idea how to play the game . You are a reckless idealist who is a total LOSER and you need to be taken out of Palm Beach. Oh you are already out, thank goodness, this blog site is a total rag, a joke, a tool of the Republicans.

    How much have the Republicans given you to write this crap? Spew this nonsense?

    We the true Democrats stand with job creation, charity and progressive ideals sugar represents.

  4. We are for Pafford. He has shown he can play the game. He is not one of the crazy liberals he used to be. He should be proud of that sugar donation.

  5. This is a great article. Perfect article. No need for any Democrat to take sugar money, ever.

  6. Do you want industries who give 80% of the vote to Republicans running the state or sugar who splits and gives heavily to local D’s.

    Krishnaiyer’s agenda is clear. He is trying to help the businesses that support Republicans because they are sponsoring this article. They are pro Everglades because they want to hurt sugar and bust the unions. This is an un holy alliance between conservative businesses and leftist environmentalist nuts. Krishnaiyer is shilling for them and this is why we Palm Beach Democrats are united against him and this destructive website.

  7. You have the cool rationale of a true addict. Get off the sugar and start living right!

  8. This issue is no brainer and I had naively thought it was past debate.

    Anybody who really thinks a few unionized jobs in polluting sugar factories where workers are exploited is more important than clean water, clean air, a healthy lifestyle, tourism dollars, saving Florida’s unique landscape and ultimately survival of the entire region south of Orlando on both coasts then I do not want to be in the same political party as you.

    Sugar should lose its subsidy and be shut down.

    How exactly are ten million people south of Orlando and Tampa going to survive without clean water, adequate flood control, and no green space?

    Obviously the Democrats who feel the way they do feel that way because of sugar money.

    Saying they support us so we need ti stick with them is admitting you have zero principles.

  9. I agree that Pafford is a fantastic vote which is why it was so galling to see Florida Crystals on his Q2 report. The bottom line is sugar offers money to every candidate and many say “no thank you.” Their are countless examples of this through the last twenty years. I was SHOCKED to see Pafford take $500 from them. Is someone who a true progressive and environmentalist so desperate for campaign cash that they would accept $500 from them which in the big picture makes little difference in campaign spending?

    We will be doing a story on donations and voting records as we did with the school voucher issue. Pafford will pass that test for sure, but many other Democrats will fail miserably as they did with vouchers. As a public official, Pafford must know his campaign record will be scrutinized. Campaign contributions are public record and candidates are accountable for whom they accept money from.

    I certainly would hope and expect that he no longer accepts sugar money and return the $500 check he got last quarter.

  10. That is a complete cop out, MS. Policy matters. Sugar money has without a reasonable doubt created hostility to true Everglades restoration among Democrats. Remember that legislative vote in 2003 where sugar got EVERY Democratic Senator save Wasserman-Schultz and Campbell to vote for delaying Everglades cleanup. Remember that? Remember the reaction in southeast Florida among Dem activists AND rank in file Republicans?

    Shilling for the Republicans? Look in the mirror. Half the Democrats in Palm Beach County shill for Republicans and some don’t even know when they are doing the GOP’s dirty work. I feel sorry for them. When I have backed Republicans in the past I have done so for good reasons, often times because OF THIS VERY ISSUE.

    Voting for everglades protection should be MANDATORY for all public officials south of Orlando. Some Republicans realize that and that is why I have applauded them.

  11. Concerned Democrat

    I am most disappointed to read off all of these contributions by sugar to Democrats.

    Like Jennifer, I thought we were beyond this point. Sure Sugar like any other company has the right to protect its economic interests but those who care about the glades should NEVER accept a penny from them.

  12. Lake Worth Dem

    Sugar is bad but I think the problem is like most politicians Pafford thinks he is better than everyone else while he plays with the corrupt group of politicians in South County. His mouth runs more than an Olympic contestant. Ego…..

  13. What ever happened to protect our most precious life source, our drinking water. The Sugar, Fertilizer and other industries need to do their part in the protection of the eco system…..There is already damage to the Everglades and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico from the phosphate industry…..There must be better responses then name calling….

  14. Never any excuse to take sugar money or $$$$ from developers who are also largely responsible for the Everglades problems.

    Polluters pay should not only mean sugar. It should mean home builders as well.

  15. Agh!

    When will our leaders learn.

    Either we clean up the glades and shut down sugar or we will have no clean water and it will cost tons more money to get clean water eventually.

  16. the next time someone from south Florida lectures us on being green ask why they’ve destroyed their area!

    In North Florida we’ve preserved land and parks and green space.

    Just saying…..they are hypocritical liars down there.

  17. Sugar runs the Democratic Party now doesn’t it? People are not going to follow the money if they do not even follow the votes. I think the party needs a redo from the top to the bottom.

  18. Thank you for bringing this up. Big Sugar bought Rod Smith in the primary against Jim Davis in 2006. Luckily the better person prevailed.