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U.S. Sugar drops $1.5 million into legislative committees; biggest check goes to Jose Oliva

Sugar caneEven before Hurricane Irma flooded sugar fields and damaged buildings causing millions in losses at Florida's largest sugar company, U.S. Sugar investing heavily in the leadership of the Florida Legislature.

It's biggest recipient: Rep. Jose Oliva.

Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, was designated Tuesday as the Republican's choice to be their next speaker if the GOP retains the majority in the Florida House.

On Aug. 18, his political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida, received a single $100,000 check from U.S. Sugar -- more money than any single contributor had ever given Oliva's PC. It far exceeded the $5,000 the company had given the committee previously in 2015.

What does U.S. Sugar expect in return for this investment?

Sugar has aggressively fought Senate President Joe Negron's push to force agricultural interests to relinquish some of their land to build a water-storage reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. It relied on the House and the governor to weaken the proposal last session, and succeeded.

Those fights, and many more linger, as polluted water from Lake Okeechobee -- which environmentalists want directed into a reservoir -- is now being released into estuaries to keep the lake from flooding.

The mega-check was not all that unusual for the mega company. It had written a $100,000 check to Gov. Rick Scott's Let's Get to Work political committee January, and another in March as the company was seeking Scott's opposition to the reservoir bill. U.S. Sugar has given Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, $285,000 in 2017 alone. 

The company has spent a total of $2.2 million in campaign contributions so far in the 2018 election cycle but, since session ended in May, $1.5 million of that has been directed into political committees in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session -- or in gratitude for the last one.

The spending featured:

* $600,000 to AIF-controlled political committees, and $300,000 to Florida Chamber of Commerce-controlled political committees -- which are both able to send money to other legislative political committees without the transparent link to U.S. Sugar.

* $50,000 to Rep. Richard Corcoran's political committee, Watchdog PAC, and $10,000 to the political committee controlled by political consultant and Corcoran advisor Anthony Pedicini.

* $40,000 to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, whom Republicans have chosen to be Senate president in 2020.

* $15,000 to each of the committees run by Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sen. Denise Grimsley, two Republican candidates for agriculture commissioner.

* and $75,000 to Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, controlled by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, plus another $17,000 to the committee in the form of in-kind contributions to pay for for entertainment and "beverages."