Politics have always been complicated for the powerful Fanjul family, sugar barons who own Florida Crystals, Domino Sugar and other sugar operations around the world.
They often lobby for big-government actions such as price supports, quotas and tariffs, while supporting candidates who run on small-government platforms.
The Fanjul name hit the headlines again last week when the Palm Beach Post, after poring over thousands of Wikileaks documents, published a story describing their efforts to block the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
In diplomatic cables, the State Department accused Jose “Pepe” Fanjul and representatives of his family’s Dominican company, Central Romana, of aggressively opposing the pact, which was a priority of the George W. Bush administration. At the same time, the Fanjuls were contributors to Bush.
A lawyer for the family has denied to the Post any wrongdoing by the family.
The Fanjul empire began in Cuba more than a century ago. Family members quietly left the country, leaving behind a large fortune and an impressive art collection, after Fidel Castro took over. The Fanjul residence in Havana, which housed the collection, is now the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba.
Now the Fanjuls are major players the U.S. sugar market, where government-imposed import restrictions help ensure profitability.
When the General Accounting Office last assessed federal sugar programs, in 2000, it found that trade restrictions were costing manufacturers and consumers nearly $2 billion annually.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) and Rep. Robert J. Dold (R-IL) last year introduced legislation, the Free Sugar Act of 2011, aimed at ending the tariff system.
The U.S. sugar program, Lugar argued, “imposes a hidden tax of billions of dollars annually on consumers and businesses and has destroyed thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs. It substitutes the federal government for the private sector in basic decisions about buying and selling, supply and price.”
The battle pits food and beverage manufacturers, who want access to cheaper sugar, against the domestic sugar industry, with Fanjul enterprises at the center of the conflict.
Florida Crystals, the world’s largest producer of refined cane sugar, owns mills and refineries in six countries.
The company spent $520,000 on lobbying activities in the first three quarters of 2011. Another Fanjul company, Domino Sugar, is a registered lobby client but reported spending less than $5,000 in each quarter.
Florida Crystals is also a member of the Florida Sugar Cane League, which spent nearly $459,000 on lobbying in the first three quarters. The trade group employs Cornerstone Government Affairs and the Macon Edwards Company.
Issues on which Florida Crystals lobbied in 2011 included foreign trade, tariffs, tax credits and biofuels.
(Biofuel has become a side business, as sugar cane waste is used to produce electricity. Florida Crystals runs a plant in Florida that powers a sugar mill and refinery and sells its surplus to Florida Power & Light.)
Florida Crystals Vice President Parks D. Shackelford, a registered lobbyist for the company, is a former deputy administrator of the Agriculture Department.
Members of the Fanjul family contribute to both Democrats and Republicans, many of whom are members of the House and Senate agriculture committees.
This week, Pepe Fanjul and wife Emilia are co-chairing a Florida fundraiser for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Coalition Builder Image of Florida Crystals Lobbying and PAC Activity