Regulatory Capture


Most folks think it’s the tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions Big Sugar doles out every year that ensures they call all the shots. It helps, for sure. But there is a lot more to sugar’s game. One of their tactics to keep pollution and harmful practices unregulated to any practical extent is to “capture” the regulators.

Another Page From Big Sugar’s Playbook

They do this by getting real cozy and friendly with those charged with regulating their activities, and then, eventually, they offer them a job. The regulators go to work for the very industry they were supposed to be regulating.

In economics, this is called Regulatory Capture.


The concept of Regulatory Capture is easy to understand once you know what to look for and can be dangerous to the public when executed. 

It occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. Regulatory capture is a form of government failure, as it can act as an encouragement for corporate interests to produce negative externalities: they win, the public loses. The agencies are called Captured Agencies.

It’s not just the outsized campaign contributions injected into the world of politics by Big Sugar, they rely on these experts to prolong the bleeding of the public’s resources to ensure private gain for themselves.

This is by no means exclusive to the sugar industry – scores of industries use this tactic. The tobacco industry famously manipulated science and prolonged debate for decades doing this. The oil and chemical industries are also notorious for this behavior.

But in Florida, for our waterways and the Everglades, the deep pockets of Big Sugar ensure ample salaries and incentives to hire the top brass at these agencies when they’re ready to leave the public sector. Then, poof, the regulator has switched sides. Now, the charade continues allowing Big Sugar to introduce them to elected officials and the political process as “the experts.”

To be clear, this practice is legal. But when you ostensibly dedicate your life to ensuring the environment and public’s safety, is it moral to take the talents the public paid you to acquire, then jump to the other side to take more and work against them?

A prime example of Regulatory Capture is the case of Tom MacVicar. Tom was once in upper management at the South Florida Water Management District. Now, he works for the sugar industry as a lobbyist and water “expert.” His “expert opinions” are not focused on what’s best for the entire system and Florida’s future, but on what’s best for Big Sugar’s bottom line.


After the drinking water in the City of West Palm Beach and the Town of Palm Beach became contaminated with toxins from blue-green algae in May 2021, the Big Sugar PR machine has been working overtime. This week, Pepe Fanjul, Jr., president of Florida Crystals, brought in Tom MacVicar and another former SFWMD division director turned Big Sugar “expert” to try to convince the Town of Palm Beach that the toxic algae his industry is responsible for has nothing to do with the toxins in their drinking water.

Town of Palm Beach Consults with Sugar Lobbyist Tom MacVicar as "Water Expert"

In this quick video, you’ll see firsthand how Regulatory Capture works to control the narrative and undermine the best interests of the public.

This is a classic, yet twisted, attempt at sowing confusion. “Impaired waterbodies are found all over the country” could also be understood to suggest “everyone’s doing it!” And “these are different strains of toxins” rings hollow when Tom MacVicar later concedes this different strain was found regularly in the lake 20 years ago.

Ms. Bates’ assertion that the State of Florida doesn’t have standards for these toxins is another callous red herring. Why doesn’t Florida have a standard for cyanobacteria when the EPA does? Look no further than the political might of the polluters and their highly paid, former regulators turned sugar lobbyists.

The sugar industry demands a higher lake. But a higher Lake O is a dirtier Lake O. Like in 2015, 2016 and 2018, dangerous things are happening in 2021 to our waterways we’ve never seen before. Toxic blue-green algae has now made its way into the public’s drinking water supply. Credible scientists won’t be able to prove anything quickly – they don’t work that way. Sugar uses that lag time to their advantage and will trot out their experts to point in many directions but their own.

Common sense doesn’t require peer reviewed studies, though we have them, to tell us what we already know and can see with our own two eyes. The water is filthy and toxic, cyanobacteria is everywhere; it’s hot, it’s stagnant and we know with dead-on-balls-certainty exactly where it’s coming from.


The Army Corps is working to bring some balance to Lake operations so more water can flow south to the Everglades that desperately needs clean water and lessen harmful discharges to both coasts of Florida being crushed by that polluted water.

The Everglades and coastal estuaries have endured the rules written by the sugar industry for decades. Doing so is destroying a watershed and the Everglades and continues to jeopardize the drinking water for 9 million of us.

Their current team of experts attempted to write the rules for the next decade – Tom MacVicar being the lead author of one of five plans the Army Corps considered.


Sugar lost, the public won.

As more Floridians understand the game, their ability to interfere with Big Sugar’s stranglehold continues to build. Twenty years ago, this would have been a fait accompli. Heck, even five years ago Big Sugar would have won handily.

What’s changed? Floridians have changed!