On February 22, Brown attended a Palm Beach luncheon featuring Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). One of the official hosts for the event was José “Pepe” Fanjul, the vice chairman, chief operating officer, and president of Fanjul Corp. and Florida Crystals Corporation, two Fanjul-family-owned sugar production companies (subsidiaries include the Domino sugar company).
Who is Pepe Fanjul?
He and his brother has been called the “Koch Brothers of South Florida” for their long record of political involvement and lobbying against industry regulations. A 1998 Time magazine article by legendary reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele called the Fanjul’s “the First Family of Corporate Welfare,” with more than $60 million in corporate subsidies benefiting their companies annually from the federal government.
But most disturbing are reports about the Fanjul’s Dominican Republic operations. In January, the Palm Beach Post reported that Wikileaks documents revealed the Fanjuls and their companies “muscled” lawmakers to kill the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which might have increased competition. A lawyer for the family dismissed any allegations of illegal or inappropriate lobbying as “chatty gossip.”
Big Sugar, a 2005 CBC documentary raised an even bigger concern. According to their investigation, workers for the Fanjul-owned Central Romano plantation work 12-hour days to earn just $2 a day. The workers go hungry in conditions that have been compared to slave labor. In a 2001 Vanity Fair article, attorney Edward Tuddenham called the treatment of sugar cane pickers under the Fanjul’s “modern-day slavery.” Their treatment of workers and the Florida everglades has been heavily questioned. Pepe Fanjul and his brother denied being barons, denied harming the everglades, and denied receiving subsidies in a 1997 New York Times letter to the editor. And in the CBC documentary, he said Centro Romano is the “most progressive employer in the Dominican Republic.”
Fanjul also made news in 2010 when the New York Post reported that his executive assistant is the ex-wife of former KKK leader David Duke and current wife of the former KKK grand wizard who runs a white-supremacist website. A company spokesman told the paper “While we may not agree with someone’s politics, we wouldn’t terminate them for that.”
Florida Sugar Company did not respond to an email requesting comment for this story.
When he kicked off his re-election campaign, Brown boasted, “Once again I won’t have the political establishment behind me – not the one on Beacon Hill, and certainly not the one on Capitol Hill.” Now we see it is the Florida GOP establishment he has in his pocket. But even with more than $750,000 in political contributions over the years, mostly to Republicans, one still has to wonder why Brown would risk aligning himself with a figure like Fanjul.