This is a story about how to get things done in Tallahassee. Usually, it takes cash. Sometimes, it also takes a helicopter.
Last year, a South Florida water agency ran out of money for a program that pays ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee too fast, a practice known as water farming. A major agriculture corporation, Alico, asked the Legislature to instead use state taxpayer money to keep the project rolling.
Alico had a lot at stake in trying to prop up the water-farming project. If the project were revived by the Legislature, Alico would get the largest contract, worth more than $120 million over the next 11 years.
Before last year's session, Alico took key legislative leaders on a four-hour helicopter ride around Lake Okeechobee that cost about $5,000. On board for a Jan. 22, 2014 flight: state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.
Also aboard: Clay Wilson, president of Alico, the nation's largest citrus producer, as well as a major player in cattle and sugar-growing. Wilson was there to show off his company's water-farming plan and explain to the legislators why it deserved an infusion of taxpayer money.
Two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2014, Alico wrote a $15,000 check to Young's political action committee, the Florida Conservative Leadership Fund.
At the time, Young was the House majority whip. It was her job to tell Republican members of the House how to vote on certain issues. A rising star, Young now serves as House majority leader.
Another passenger on board the Alico copter tour that day in January 2014 was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Seth McKeel. As chairman, he wielded an outsize influence on what would go into the state budget and what would be left out.
Six days after the flight, McKeel's PAC, the Florida Innovation Fund, got a check from Alico for $25,000.