Big Sugar's Fanjul Family Hosting Miami Fundraisers for Both Clinton and Trump This Year

To Hillary Clinton supporters, Donald Trump is a boogeyman, a know-nothing Kremlin stooge, and a borderline fascist salivating at the idea of raining nuclear bombs down on anyone who insults him online.

To Trump fans, Clinton is an oligarch run wild, a conspiratorial murderer, and a war criminal. Tension between the camps is at its absolute peak, and both candidates claim to have absolutely nothing in common with each other.

But that's not quite accurate: It turns out both Clinton and Trump have turned to the same family of controversial sugar kingpins for campaign cash in South Florida.

The Fanjul brothers — the longest-reigning Big Sugar barons in Florida — have agreed to host Miami fundraisers for both candidates this election cycle. The Palm Beach-based brothers — Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul and Jose "Pepe" Fanjul Sr. — own Florida Crystals, a company that has for decades been accused of polluting the Florida Everglades ecosystem while buying off politicians through campaign contributions. The brothers partially own Domino Sugar and control roughly 40 percent of the state's sugar industry, according to Vanity Fair.

It's not news that the two brothers differ politically. But this year's crop of donations comes right as environmentalists are blaming Big Sugar polluters in part for the gigantic mass of toxic green algae that bloomed off of Florida's Treasure Coast in July, killing tourism — and marine life — throughout the area.

Tonight Clinton will attend a $50,000-per-plate Miami Beach fundraiser held by the elder Alfy Fanjul, a longtime friend of the Clintons who famously spoke to Bill Clinton while the former president cavorted with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office.

Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly rescheduled a fundraising event where the younger Pepe Fanjul had been listed as a host.
Pepe also hosted a Trump fundraising event with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus in the Hamptons last month.

When it comes to politics, the sugar barons don't seem to agree much at all. While Pepe is a major Republican donor, Alfy has donated heavily to Democratic candidates over the years. The Fanjuls have long played both sides — though Alfy has remained a loyal Clinton supporter (and Clinton Foundation donor) since the early 1990s, and Pepe threw considerable resources behind George W. Bush's campaign and stumped for Marco Rubio before Trump became the Republican nominee.

The brothers' business interests, however, are inextricably linked. 

To Everglades conservationists, Florida Crystals has been a scourge on the local ecosystem. As author and Politico reporter Michael Grunwald chronicled in his 2005 book The Swamp, the Everglades' water had been historically crystal-clean, but when sugar farmers arrived in Florida during the 20th Century, they began dumping phosphorus into the water supply. In the years since, the entire ecosystem has been thrown out of whack — though picturesque, the cattails that now inhabit much of the open Everglades exist only because of the phosphorus pollution in the area.

Environmentalists have placed much of the blame on the Fanjuls. Scores of anti-sugar activists, including the nonprofit group Bullsugar demand the Environmental Protection Agency crack down on Big Sugar companies.

In July, a coalition of private companies and nonprofits, including clothing manufacturer Patagnoia, signed the Now or Neverglades Declaration, a petition to demand that the state government buy back Everglades land to save it from sugar pollution.

Elsewhere, Change.org petitioners are asking Publix to drop Big Sugar companies such as Domino. The Fanjuls have also been sued multiple times over unsafe conditions at their sugar-harvesting plants.

It's worth noting, though, that in 2008, the New York Times pointed out that the Fanjuls' rival, United States Sugar, has actually been "worse stewards of the land" than Florida Crystals.

Regardless, the Fanjuls' double-sided dealings poke a hole in the idea that the 2016 election represents a life-or-death choice between two polar-opposite candidates. Because whether you believe that Trump will cripple the U.S. economy or that Clinton ought to be locked in prison, both candidates will be indebted to Florida Crystals come 2017.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.