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Raising 'Sugar-Cane': Investigative Report Follows the Money Trail

October 4, 2011

This is Part Two of a two-part series that began Monday, October 3

BELLE GLADE, Fla. - In South Florida, sugar cane is king. Courting political favors is high on the sugar agenda, led by Flo-Sun, a holding company for Domino Sugar. Les Coleman provides this investigative report.

Flo-Sun is controlled by the Fanjul family, who came to Florida from Cuba after the revolution that ended in 1959. Brothers Pepe' and Alfonso have doled out thousands of dollars to support Florida congressional and state office holders who have sweetened the sugar bottom line. Former Florida GOP Congressman Adam Putnam received $61,000.

When Putnam was named State Agriculture Commissioner, he voted to delay a ban on sugary drinks in Florida public schools.

David Guest, Florida managing attorney (regional director) for the public interest law firm Earthjustice, has been tracking Big Sugar's influence in Florida politics, and says it has long been a major one.

"Historically, there has always been a close connection with one of the biggest industries in the state, surely the most concentrated, very influential. During Rick Scott's inauguration, right there is the front row was Bob Coker from U.S. Sugar."

Robert E. Coker is vice-president for public affairs at the United States Sugar Corporation

After taking office last January, Governor Scott opposed an Army Corp of Engineers project in the Everglades that would take back land from sugar cane growers.

So far in 2011, the Fanjul family's Flo-Sun company has spent $345,000 lobbying while U.S. Sugar has spent $80,000.

Florida sugar interests have proven skillful at getting their way, especially when it comes to the U.S. Farm Bill. David Guest says they get a very good price for their product.

"Well, I know one fact, that sugar's so high it's well above the price support system. The sugar companies would sell to the federal government any sugar that they couldn't sell, at the rate of 22 cents a pound. At the time the world price was 10 cents a pound."

Florida sugar has good reason to sweeten the political campaign process with contributions. As we previously reported, the move by the industry to produce biofuel ethanol, in competition with U.S. Midwest corn producers, could drive up sugar prices worldwide and make Florida-based sugar cane growers and processors, like the Fanjul brothers, very happy.

This investigative report by Les Coleman was produced with cooperation from The American Independent News Network:

Les Coleman, Public News Service - FL