Normally it would hardly be noteworthy that the Associated Industries of Florida endorsed the Republican candidate for governor. The powerful business group endorsed all the Republicans running for statewide cabinet positions last week.
But campaign finance reports show the group's political committees are funded in large part by Florida's sugar industry — which Ron DeSantis has chastised repeatedly for contributing to Florida's toxic green algae woes.
In one of DeSantis' most memorable moments during the Republican primary, DeSantis called his rival, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, an "errand boy for U.S. Sugar" for his acceptance of millions in sugar contributions.
In a statement sent to the Times/Herald on Friday, his campaign further doubled down on their promise not to accept "Big Sugar" money.
"We are happy to have AIF's endorsement because they know Ron DeSantis is the only person in this race who will create jobs, cut taxes and boost our economy," spokesman Stephen Lawson wrote in the statement. "Ron has made it very clear that he will not be taking money, directly or indirectly, from Sugar."
According to public campaign finance reports, Florida Crystals Corporation and United States Sugar Corporation have given more than $7.3 million to five AIF-controlled political committees since they were formed in late 2013. The only corporation to give more is Florida Power & Light, the utility company.
The PACs are called Associated Industries of Florida Political Action Committee, Florida Prosperity Fund, Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, Floridian's (sic) United for Our Children's Future and Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee.
All in all, the committees' contributions are made up of more than 27 percent sugar money. And since DeSantis announced his candidacy on January 5, the pot has been even sweeter. Over the past nine months, United States Sugar and Florida Crystals Corporation have given $2.7 million — more than 43 percent of the PACs' fundraising in that time.
In response to a follow-up question about whether financial support from AIF would constitute as "indirect" sugar contributions, Lawson responded that the campaign has instructed the group not to give them any money that came from sugar.
But Democrats were unconvinced.
"Former Congressman DeSantis has made it clear time and time again that, No. 1: he is not ready for prime time and he doesn't know the rules of the game," said state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park, an early supporter and surrogate of Andrew Gillum's. "This also goes to show that the former congressman is not true to his word."
AIF has not donated to DeSantis' campaign since the endorsement, according to his political committee's online contribution list. But the campaign indicated that was likely to happen in the future.
DeSantis' Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, has also pledged not to take any sugar contributions on his campaign website.