Palm Beach Post:
Adam Putnam — former congressman, current commissioner of agriculture and widely viewed as the future of Florida politics — became a very rich man in 2005 when taxpayers spent $25.5 million on 2,042 acres of his family’s ranch that had been valued at $5.5 million a year earlier, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
The South Florida Water Management District needed only 600 acres of the ranch in Highlands County for environmental purposes. But it bought all 2,042 acres and did it in a way that arranged for the Putnams a lucrative tax break, while allowing the family to continue grazing cattle on the land rent-free until the district needed the land. After paying the family’s attorney $3.9 million in legal fees, the total deal cost taxpayers nearly $30 million.
Seven years later the district has used only 150 acres and has no plans for the rest. The Putnam cattle graze on, courtesy of Florida taxpayers.
Putnam, a congressman at the time of the deal, said he was careful to not involve himself in it to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Congressional ethics rules do not bar such real estate transactions as long as Putnam did not use his position to sweeten the deal. Records show Putnam was not on any committees that would have allowed him to do so. He said his older brother Will negotiated the deal for the family.
“I can’t speak to the details of the transaction because I deliberately stayed away,” Adam Putnam said. His financial disclosure reports show his income from the family business jumped from under $100,000 in 2004 to between $1 million and $5 million after the deal. “If there’s something else I could have done to further remove myself, I don’t know what it was,” he said.