How a local election in a tiny Florida town helped protect Big Sugar from pollution lawsuits

A local election in a Florida town of 8,000 voters drew heightened attention—and donations—from sugar and farming interests last year, as state lawmakers debated whether to pass a law that would protect the sugarcane industry from lawsuits over air pollution. ProPublica and The Palm Beach Post use the contentious local election in Belle Glade, Florida, to illustrate how the sugar industry influences local elections, and in turn, state law. The tumultuous city commissioner race pitted a pro-sugar industry candidate against another who opposed cane burning, a sugarcane harvesting method that some residents say harms their health. With the help of a local political action committee (which, in a roundabout way, received funds from sugar and farming interests), the pro-sugar candidate won the election. His testimony a week later was pivotal in convincing lawmakers to pass the bill protecting farms from litigation. Jessica Terrell