Pay-To-Play Case Study

Big Sugar Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Political Campaigns

A relic of the Great Depression, the federal sugar subsidy program is as outdated as it is outrageous. It has created a can’t-lose deal for a concentrated group of 13 mega-processors sprinkled around the country – Florida Crystals and US Sugar are two that share roughly $3-4 billion a year, every year. It is a complicated bureaucratic mess of price supports, market allocations, import quotas, and government guarantees that are ultimately covered by taxpayer and consumer dollars. 

Vincent Smith, an agricultural economist and critic of the sugar program, estimates the Fanjul family of Florida Crystals is “getting at least $150 million a year” in net benefits from the program, with another $25 million going to the Fanjul’s sugar enterprise in the Dominican Republic, Central Romana.

The sugar growers use this financial windfall to show their gratitude to big government with generous contributions to politicians’ campaign chests.

Consider this: From 2017 to 2022, Big Sugar has poured more than $40 million into the coffers of state politicians (doesn’t include local or federal contributions). And that number is just what we can prove using data from the Florida’s Division of Elections website. 

Campaign Finance Database – Division of Elections – Florida Department of State

The political power this program has given to sugarcane producers continues to wreak havoc on our state’s tourism, fishing, and real estate economies. All of these depend on clean water, which is blocked, diverted and muddied by the industry’s practices and stranglehold on policymakers.

To summarize: Your hard-earned dollars have funded $40+ million in five years to scores of politicians – that dollar amount doesn’t include paying for all the lobbyists, law firms, and consultants – just in the State of Florida. But heck, what’s another $15 million a year among friends?


Since the account was opened in 2015, Putnam’s PAC, Florida Grown, took in more than $9.2M from sugar companies, directly and indirectly.

Below, we show you how it’s done. We’ve included only donations made by US Sugar and Florida Crystals, and some other sugar-related companies to nine PACs from 2015-2018. From there we looked at the amounts those PACs contributed to Putnam’s PAC.

Sugar money flows in, toxic algae flows out.

The amount of money that Florida Crystals and US Sugar and a few of their partners or subsidiaries have given to Putnam’s PAC, Florida Grown, since 2015, is more than $865,00

Indirect contributions – $8,366,500

The amount of indirect money that a handful of sugar corporations have given to Putnam’s PAC, Florida Grown, since 2015, is more than $8.3 million. 

They do this through a transfer of money to other PACs, which in turn contribute to Putnam’s PAC. It’s a dizzying array of transfers of vast sums of money, meant to keep people in the dark about just how much money they are contributing.

They’ll tell you it’s “legal.” You know it’s legalized corruption.