Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

U.S. Sugar, mystery DC group among top donors to inaugural pot

Because Gov. Ron DeSantis' inauguration fundraised through the state Republican Party, it’s impossible to separate donations used for the inaugural festivities and other party needs.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis share their first dance at the Inaugural Ball. | Scott Keeler TIMES
Published Jan. 15
Updated Jan. 16

TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Ron DeSantis took his oath on the steps of the Old Capitol in front of more than 3,000 people, then danced with the first lady to a live jazz band at the Inaugural Ball, one question lingered: Who paid for this?

Because DeSantis' inauguration was fundraised through the state Republican Party, it’s impossible to separate donations used for the inaugural festivities and other party needs. But new finance reports begin to provide answers the inaugural programs, which listed sponsors but no amounts, didn’t.

U.S. Sugar donated $350,000 to the Republican Party of Florida between the midterm election and the end of 2018 – making it the No. 1 donor for that time period.

During the campaign and since his election, DeSantis has made repeated comments calling out the sugar industry as being inhibitors of toxic algae cleanup in a way that was unprecedented for a Republican candidate for governor. In one of the primary debates, DeSantis even labeled his primary opponent, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, as the sugar industry’s “errand boy.”

When asked if U.S. Sugar’s donation went toward the governor’s inauguration, Republican party spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre responded in a statement saying donations are not “earmarked” for specific purposes.

However, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that those funds could be used to pay for inauguration costs.

Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, also emphasized the list of expenses other than the governor’s inauguration that would have benefited from U.S. Sugar’s donation.

“The donation to which you refer was to the Republican Party of Florida general revenue fund and may be used at the discretion of the chairman and the executive committee,” she said.

Because the inauguration was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, the same account used for the inauguration was also used to recoup legal fees from the midterm recounts and was available for any inaugural events for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. Patronis held a modest event at a local Tallahassee pizza parlor. Moody never released a schedule of inaugural events.

Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, which made a surprise endorsement of DeSantis in the general election, said she is certain the donation from the sugar industry will have no effect on DeSantis’ policy.

In his first week in office, DeSantis announced a sweeping executive order aimed at cleaning up the toxic algae and also asked all the members of the South Florida Water Management District, who approved a last-minute extension to the sugar industry’s lease, to resign.

“It’s not a concern. I know Ron DeSantis and … this is not a man who can be bought,” Mitchell said. “What you’re highlighting is something that is troubling and has been for long time which is the influence and the sheer dollar amount that is doled out to politicians is obscene. They are desperately trying to do anything they can to change the tide — and they can’t.”

U.S. Sugar did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another top donor to the Republican Party of Florida is a health care management company, Centene, which is a parent company for others that contract with the state to provide Medicaid or health services in 61 Florida correctional facilities. Centene donated $100,000.

Yet another $100,000 donor is a mysterious Washington group called the Center for Advancement of Integrity and Justice, which listed a Washington, D.C., address on Pennsylvania Avenue and its purpose as “advocacy” in contribution reports. However, the group has no website and just registered in October 2018 as a corporation in Delaware – a state known for lax business registry requirements.

No contact information was available for the group. A receptionist for the center’s registered agent in Delaware, called the Corporation Trust Company, said they weren’t legally allowed to provide any information on their clients.

Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful lobbying group, donated just over $290,000 in their name and also through their affiliated political committees.

Others in the $100,000 category: Florida Power and Light, the Florida Association of Realtors, private prison operator The Geo Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consulate Health Care and the Republican Governors’ Association.

Tampa’s Third Lake Capital, LLC, part of the Ashley Furniture family of companies, also donated $100,000. ZWB Holdings, an Orlando real estate investment company, donated the same amount.

Disney donated $75,000, while Ashbritt, the massive debris pickup company that has fallen under state scrutiny — and employed DeSantis' new emergency management chief former Rep. Jared Moskowitz — donated $50,000. Utility giant Duke Energy, Florida’s largest payday loan company Amscott and Surterra, the medical marijuana company, also donated $50,000 each.

Times/Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh and Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Mark. S, Inch, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, at the State Capitol, May, 1, 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Mark Inch said the root of the problem lies with low salaries and long shifts for prison guards.
  2. Female driver texting on mobile phone while driving. STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS
    Police are choosing to issue warnings instead of tickets — so far.
  3. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaks to delegates during the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) JESSICA HILL  |  AP
    Kimberly Diaz Scott was the Central Florida regional director for Charlie Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign when he ran as a Democrat against Rick Scott.
  4. In this July 22, 2008, photo, traffic passes in front of the New York Times building in New York. MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    The allegation stems from their reporting on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
  5. Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. talk during a break Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    34 percent of Floridians picked the former vice president. Background checks for gun sales saw overwhelming support.
  6. State Rep. Chris Sprowls, 35, addresses the Florida House of Representatives, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after the Republican was elected to lead the 120-member chamber. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan) BOBBY CAINA CALVAN  |  AP
    The Pinellas Republican did not shy away from the wedge issues of the day, wading into 2020 presidential politics, abortion and climate change.
  7. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  8. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
    Nearly a year after the storm, 18,000 claims are still open.
  9. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    Gov. Ron DeSantis also had set a priority of getting more youngsters ready for kindergarten.
  10. Energy-efficient LED light bulbs. (Times | 2008) St. Petersburg Times
    Trump’s administration recently scrapped a rule that would have phased out incandescent light bulbs.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement