Top Florida Republican officials have enjoyed repeated hunting trips to South Texas' historic King Ranch thanks to the Sunshine State's sugar industry, but they aren't talking much about them.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday records show the trips were financed all or in part by the Florida sugar industry. U.S. Sugar leased 30,000 acres at the ranch and built a hunting lodge amid its rolling hills.
Lawmakers can't accept free meals, drinks and trips from donors, but a loophole allows parties and political committees to do so. They can then pass on these gifts without detailing who gives or receives them — as long as the donation can be considered for a "campaign purpose."
The Times says the lack of disclosure means officials and sugar lobbyists can avoid scrutiny about dealings on a host of important issues like agriculture policy, water pollution and Everglades protection.
Florida Governor Rick Scott's campaign staff released a one-paragraph statement on Friday saying he had gone to King Ranch "in support of his political fundraising efforts."
The urge to keep details about the trips confidential is so strong among Florida's elected officials that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's press secretary shut a door in the face of a reporter asking about King Ranch.
"You'll have to talk to the Republican Party of Florida, since it was their fundraiser," Putnam said as the door closed.
In addition to Scott and Putnam, politicians who confirmed they took trips to King Ranch include:
• Former Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who was House speaker from 2010 to 2012.
• Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, slated to become House speaker in 2016.
• Former Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who would have become speaker this year if he hadn't lost a bid for re-election in 2012.
• House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.