As budget takes shape, SFWMD members, enviro lobby groups mix it up after hours

Businessman putting dollar banknotes money in his suit pocket
'I believe you’ve been misled.'

Currently in Tallahassee, members of the Senate and House are nearing a showdown in a budget conference to finalize the state’s annual budget.

One of the flashpoints of this year’s budget negotiations has been Senate Bill 2508, which has been heavily criticized by environmental lobby groups such as the Everglades Foundation and Captains for Clean Water over its protections for Florida farmers, including the state’s influential sugar industry.

To shore up opposition to the bill among members of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), environmental lobbying groups hosted members of the district’s board at recent social events, including last weekend’s $1,500 per-ticket “ForEverglades” gala at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.

The event featured a performance by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow.

According to Sean Cooley, Communications Director for SFWMD, “no staff nor Board members attended the [Everglades Foundation Gala] in an official capacity.”

However, in a picture obtained by Florida Politics, SFWMD Vice Chairman Scott Wagner attended the gala with Everglades Foundation Executive Director Eric Eikenberg, Congressman Brian Mast, and Captains for Clean Water co-founder Daniel Andrews. Cooley also noted that despite Wagner’s attendance, the district did not “incur any expenses associated with that event.”

At the Feb. 19 Everglades Foundation’s “ForEverglades” gala (from left to right): SFWMD Vice Chairman Scott Wagner, Congressman Brian Mast, Captains for Clean Water’s Daniel Andrews, and Everglades Foundation’s Eric Eikenberg.

According to a Mast spokesman, the Congressman purchased the ticket using campaign donor funds — not at taxpayers’ expense.

In January, before the Legislative Session, the SFWMD sponsored a social event at the annual Everglades Coalition Conference, held at the pricey Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key. According to Cooley, the district’s sponsorship cost taxpayers $2,500, or a quarter of the district’s total annual sponsorship budget.

The district did not provide a total cost for travel, hotel rooms, and meals to taxpayers when asked for a response before press time.

Among the conference’s other sponsors were Everglades Foundation-funded groups such as the Florida Oceanographic Society, the Sierra Club, and Captains for Clean Water.

Earlier this month, Senate Appropriations Chair Kathleen Passidomo raised questions about the finances behind the Captains and whether they take money and direction from the Everglades Foundation.

According to IRS records, Captains for Clean Water has received $237,000 from the Everglades Foundation since 2016. According to Captains for Clean Water’s website, SFWMD Chairman Chauncey Goss serves as the group’s treasurer.

In a February Senate Appropriations meeting, Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican and sponsor of SB 2508, said most people who spoke against the bill didn’t understand it, and the bill includes measures for greater “accountability” from the SFWMD to follow existing policies and laws.

“I believe you’ve been misled,” Albritton said. “I believe that asking for more accountability from an agency that receives 70% of their budget from the state is good government.”

According to current SFWMD lobbyist registrations, neither Eikenberg nor Andrews are listed as registered lobbyists.

Staff Reports


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704