Sugar Ads

Sugar ad

Sugar ad

SUGAR ADS

The local-market sugar industry ads, running from early June to mid-July, also are airing on cable networks, including CNN, but those costs are harder to track.

West Palm market

Covers: Palm Beach County to north Indian River County; includes Okeechobee

Ad cost: $115,150

Affected waterways: St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Fort Myers market

Covers: Lee, Collier, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry counties

Ad cost: At least $64,795

Affected waterway: Caloosahatchee River

The ads touting Florida sugar farmers as environmentally friendly are only running in the two TV markets battered by Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases.

While Lake O water pours into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, TV viewers in the West Palm Beach and Fort Myers markets are listening to the sugar industry’s positive take on its Everglades cleanup efforts. Those are the only two regions where the ads are playing, according to the media-buying agency in charge, VancoreJones Communications Inc.

One ad sponsored by the sugar industry, often criticized as a major water polluter, paints a picture of positive Everglades partnerships and cleanup progress. Among the alligators, birds, tractors and scientists pictured, a narrator echoes Gov. Rick Scott’s catch phrase, “It’s working,” before showing the governor at a bill signing.

“We thought it was important that people everywhere in Florida understand that the restoration process to this date has been very successful,” Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar, has said about the ads.

Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, said it’s no coincidence which audience the sugar industry is targeting.

“That’s where they are causing the most damage that is visible to the public,” Wickstrom said.

RELEASES START, ADS FOLLOW

The ads started about a month after the Army Corps of Engineers began dumping Lake O water east and west, via canals. The corps says discharges are necessary to keep a rising lake from threatening the surrounding Herbert Hoover Dike and from flooding communities to the south.

Environmental advocates contend Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. The lake water puts the lagoon and estuary at dangerously low salinity levels, and it carries phosphorous and nitrogen. The combination of factors can prove deadly for marine wildlife.

Environmentalists also contend taxpayers are footing too much of the Everglades cleanup bill, and sugar isn’t paying its fair share.

PR CAMPAIGN

The TV ad is one prong of a public relations push from sugar. Florida Sugar Farmers has mailed fliers that tout the same positive spin on the industry’s Everglades work. It’s unclear how much the group spent, or where exactly the mailers went, but they hit both the Fort Myers and Treasure Coast region.

The group also created a website, www.sugarfarmers.com, that repeats the same message.

Despite using the name Florida Sugar Farmers in the ads, the nonprofit behind the campaign is Everglades Forever Partnership Inc. The 501(c)(4) group’s official purpose, according to IRS tax forms, is to “promote welfare and common good and restoration of the Florida Everglades.”

501(c)(4)s have become the most prominent political-spending group. They don’t need to disclose their donors, and can spend unlimited money on political communications.

Everglades Forever Partnership formed in 2003 amid a political tussle over a controversial state Everglades bill. Environmentalists fought a proposal they said would have delayed stricter pollution standards in the Everglades for at least a decade.

After the bill passed, Everglades Forever Partnership mailed a flier saying, “Who can we thank for protecting our Everglades?” On the other side was a photo of the local lawmaker who supported the bill.

The group’s directors, Richard Johnston and Randy Nielsen, run Public Concepts LLC in West Palm Beach. That company has been a lucrative de facto arm of state Republican campaigns. Public Concepts raked in about $1.8 million through their work on mailers, ads, polls, consulting and more for state candidates and committees in the 2012 cycle.

1996 SUGAR AD FIGHT

In 1996, the sugar industry prominently dove into political advertising. The group Save Our Everglades managed to get three constitutional amendments aimed at the sugar industry on the ballot by petition. The most controversial would have imposed a penny-a-pound tax on sugar growers.

A week before the election, a sugar-fueled political committee peppered voters with a mailer. It said: “Can you afford a property tax increase? Amendment 4 gives politicians and bureaucrats the power to raise property taxes hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The sugar industry put about $18.9 million into the committee in 1996.

In a subsequent letter, Orlando State Attorney Lawson Lamar said: “It is my strong recommendation that no further misleading materials be distributed to the public and that a statement correcting the misinformation in this document be included in your upcoming campaign mailings or other communications with the public.”

Save Our Everglades said that recommendation was ignored. The amendment failed by an 8 percent margin on the November 1996 ballot. U.S. Sugar and Save our Everglades then traded lawsuits, which the two parties eventually dropped.

SUGAR ADS

The local-market sugar industry ads, running from early June to mid-July, also are airing on cable networks, including CNN, but those costs are harder to track.

West Palm market

Covers: Palm Beach County to north Indian River County; includes Okeechobee

Ad cost: $115,150

Affected waterways: St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Fort Myers market

Covers: Lee, Collier, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry counties

Ad cost: At least $64,795

Affected waterway: Caloosahatchee River

 

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