(Note from Erin: I’ve written about how both sides have taken money from Big $ugar in the past. However, this man takes the cake. He should be considered a criminal.)

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been pointing out the part that Big Sugar has played in what’s happening to the ecosystem in Florida. And so have many others. In fact, you would think that politicians would be smarter about taking money from them. But no. At least not this guy.

“This campaign season, only one person running for governor is still taking sugar’s money: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

So far sugar companies and their affiliates have given Putnam’s campaign and his Florida Grown PAC $804,000 in direct contributions, a reward for a reliable ally. He’s also received $7.6 million from five political action committees that receive a significant portion of their contributions from the industry, or one out of every five dollars he has raised.

Putnam also is the only gubernatorial candidate defending the sugar companies from accusations that they deserve some or all of the blame for the pollution-fueled algae blooms mucking up Lake Okeechobee and threatening to ruin beach communities on both coasts.” 1

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He explained away his support of BS saying, “I support our Glades communities. I support giving them the opportunities to have good jobs … And I think they’re a viable, vibrant part of our economy, and the water that leaves sugar farms is cleaner than the water that comes on to them (my emphasis).” (When you are that delusional, you can’t expect too much.) He also went on to say that the current situation goes “beyond sugar” and includes everyone who has moved to a state once covered by wetlands. (What?)

Politics as usual

While both parties have been guilty in the past of taking Big $ugar money, Ron DeSantis and the other five leading Democratic candidates in this election cycle “have been painting the sugar companies as corporate greed heads who don’t care what damage they do to the rest of Florida.”2 In fact, DeSantis, a congressman who is unpopular with sugar companies has said Putnam and Big Sugar are “tied at the hip.”

Ron DeSantis talks Lake Okeechobee pollution

Ron DeSantis hits Adam Putnam on his ties to big sugar during Fort Meyers campaign stop and answers questions about what he would do to clean up Lake Okeechobee and prevent future algae blooms

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But not Putnam. And, rather than answer why Putnam is still taking sugar money when the industry is so unpopular, his campaign spokeswoman deflected and pointed out that other candidates took sugar contributions in prior campaigns and then said they were all “are fueled by out-of-state special interests” but that Putnam was “the only candidate who isn’t controlled by the Washington swamp.”3 (WHAT?? Sure. Ok, lady.)

So, knowing that Putnam is “tied at the hip” to the industry begs the question: What do they want from him? This is what he’s done for them so far:4

  • Began taking money from the sugar industry as far back as 1996, the year he was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives
  • Accepted contributions from sugar during his 10 years in Congress, through his election as state agriculture commissioner in 2010, and subsequent re-election four years ago
  • In 2008, when Gov. Charlie Crist wanted to buy all of U.S. Sugar’s land for use in Everglades restoration, Putnam sided with Florida Crystals in opposing the purchase
  • In 2010, he halted a Department of Education effort to ban chocolate milk and most other high-sugar drinks in Florida schools, then took over the school breakfast and lunch programs
  • In 2013, when two sugar companies wanted no-bid, long-term leases for 14,000 acres of state land that was supposed to be used for Everglades restoration, Putnam joined his fellow Cabinet members in a unanimous yes vote.
  • In 2017, when Senate President Joe Negron backed a plan to build a big reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to hold excess water when the lake fills rather than dumping the water into sensitive estuaries on the east and west coasts, Putnam sided with the sugar companies that opposed it. He suggested Negron’s plan was just a political ploy to satisfy his district, which includes the area hardest hit by toxic algae, and there were better ways to spend the state’s money.
  • And Putnam’s agency routinely pays Tom MacVicar’s company, a powerful voice for Florida’s sugar industry in dealing with state agencies, $35,000 a year for “influencing the water-related issues important to agriculture in South Florida.” Documents show the money that pays him comes from a state fund for buying environmentally sensitive land.

The current state law requires the sugar companies that farm around the northern edge of Lake Okeechobee to follow “best management practices” in their farming. No permits. No strict pollution limits. Nothing more than that arbitrary statement even though the idea was that “best management practices” would cut the flow of damaging chemicals to the lake.

However, the latest report from the South Florida water agency has found that the amount of pollution flowing into the lake from the north is about the same as in 1985. Seems “best management practices” aren’t doing anyone any good. And a state law passed in 2016 called for Putnam’s agency to “adopt ways to verify whether the sugar companies are really following best management practices,” including enforcement procedures if a farm isn’t doing what it said it would. But, as you might expect, his agency did nothing.

If you live in Florida, please don’t vote this guy in.

Sources and References

  1. Miami Herald, August 6, 2018.
  2. Miami Herald, August 6, 2018.
  3. Miami Herald, August 6, 2018.
  4. Miami Herald, August 6, 2018.