Campaign finger-pointing: Who’s taking money from sugar industry

Producer: Katie Cribbs
Published: Updated:
U.S. Sugar Corporation Mill and Railroad, Clewiston, Hendry County. Credit South Florida Water Management District

It’s become a major talking point in the race for governor. Some candidates are accusing each other of taking donations from the sugar industry, and others are even blaming that industry for causing the algae crisis.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle accuse the sugar industry of contributing to the fertilizer runoff that makes algae grow. So we reached out to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that tracks campaign spending to find out who has accepted donations from the industry. They crunched the numbers and found that in this election cycle, the two largest sugar companies, U.S. Sugar Corporation and Florida Crystals Corporation, spent more than $7.5 million in Florida on a variety of races, including the governor’s race.

We checked campaign finance records and found those same two companies donated $425,000 directly to Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political action committee, Florida Grown PC.

DATABASE: Search the Florida Campaign Finance Records

Our review of the financial disclosure data from the Florida Division of Elections showed that none of the other candidates, nor their political action committees, received donations from U.S. Sugar or Florida Crystals.

While some people who live around Lake Okeechobee told us they blame the sugar industry for creating the algae crisis, others say their towns depend on the industry to survive.

We reached out to both U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals and have not heard back.

Commissioner Adam Putnam sent us this statement:

“Governor Rick Scott’s continued leadership to expedite federal funds so the state can accelerate repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is critical to addressing the water issues facing our state. We must also ensure the Army Corps of Engineers does its job and reevaluates the discharge process. In Florida, I have led the fight to restore both the health and flow of our water resources in recent years. Measures adopted in the Everglades Agricultural Area have effectively reduced the phosphorus loads by 70 percent.”

Statements from other candidates:


“Florida’s economy and our way of life is linked to our land, waterways and natural resources. Ron DeSantis is the only conservative in this race standing with the business owners and residents who are demanding clean water from Southwest Florida to the Treasure Coast.”


“We haven’t accepted sugar donations, and the Everglades deserves much more than a hollow campaign pledge — it’s not as if the industry was going to actually back any of our opponents. Andrew’s visited with workers in the industry; we need someone who is willing to bring all the sides together on a real solution that puts science first. Demonizing an industry that employs thousands of Floridians, including lots of people of color, does nothing to get us there.”


“The sugar industry gave to Graham’s congressional campaign but didn’t stop her from sponsoring legislation to protect the Everglades or signing the Now or Neverglades Pledge. In April, she donated the contribution to support the Indian Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that advocates for the Indian River Lagoon.”


“Jeff Greene isn’t accepting contributions over $100 from anyone, and isn’t taking money from any special interest — including Big Sugar. When he gets to Tallahassee, the only interest he will serve is that of the people of Florida.”


“I’m running for governor to shake up conventional politics in Florida –– and that includes putting an end to the vise grip Big Sugar holds on Florida’s environment. I was proud to be the first candidate in a generation to stand up to sugar corporations and we’ve changed the debate in Florida, forcing our competitors from the political establishment to stand up to sugar and give back their campaign cash.”


“The Mayor has not, and will not accept any contributions from the Sugar industry.”

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