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Big Sugar Contributes Heavily
Industry wants a say in writing farm, environmental bills
By Bob Franken/CNN
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- Machines harvest almost all Florida sugar cane these days. Gone are the field workers and their machetes.
But when Big Sugar wants to influence government policy, it still does it the old-fashioned way: By handing out lots of campaign money to ensure they have a say in writing agricultural and environmental bills.
"Many of the laws are just special-interest payments by the people who have money," said Dexter Lehtinen, an environmental lawyer.
Last year's sugar victory was Section 156 of the farm bill, which guarantees loans "to processors of domestically grown sugarcane" and provides trade restrictions on imported sugar.
One congressman's staff member called it a "bloody fight" keeping the special sugar protections.
No one is required to report the number of meetings between lobbyists and lawmakers. But Capitol Hill sources tell CNN sugar lobbyists conducted "hundreds of meetings" with key House and Senate members in the months leading up to the vote.
In the 1996 federal elections alone, the sugar industry gave $2.8 million to its friends, proving that in politics, nothing is sweeter than campaign money.
On the losing side was a coalition of consumer groups, environmentalists, and the makers of candy and other sweets. They gave about half as much.
They complain the current program costs consumers approximately $1.5 billion each year in higher prices, money that goes right into the hands of sugar companies.
It's a perk supporters fight fiercely to