The Donalds Dossier: PACs and the race for re-election

Part 2: A deep dive into the PACs behind Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds speaks while Rep. Steve Scalise looks on. (Photo: Office of Rep. Donalds)

June 23, 2021 by David Silverberg

“The PACs didn’t get me elected,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) said during a March 30 interview at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table market.

That statement is not true; political action committees (PACs) were very heavily involved in getting Donalds elected in 2020, as demonstrated in Part 1 of this deep dive into Donalds’ PAC support. Ideological super PACs played an especially big role in his 2020 primary victory.

What is more, they and other PACs are already making contributions to his 2022 re-election campaign—and by so doing shaping the nature of the midterm election as conducted in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

Some of Donalds’ 2022 PAC contributors were contributors in 2020. Their contributions bear scrutiny because they both illuminate Donalds’ corporate and ideological backing and explain his policy positions even if he himself said that he ignores the concerns of his PAC backers.

Nonetheless, some of the PAC contributions stand out in different ways.

The PAC spending reported in this article was, to the best of this author’s ability to determine, legal and compliant with existing law. This article is based on public information. No criminality or impropriety is alleged or implied. The full 2021-22 PAC list can be seen and downloaded on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website.

Water, oil and Scalise

Politicians form their own PACs and donate to each other’s campaigns. This helps build bonds and relationships that serve them well once they’re elected. These networks help them pass legislation or advance in the party leadership ranks.

These kinds of donations were especially important during Donalds’ 2020 primary campaign when he was in a tight and uncertain race against well-funded opponents.

One primary contributor of particular significance was Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.).

Scalise was significant on a number of levels: He was (and remains) House Minority Whip, the second highest leadership position in the Republican caucus. A contribution from him was a vote of confidence and a boost from the official Republican House establishment.

But Scalise had a particular connection to Southwest Florida. During Francis Rooney’s 2016 to 2020 service in Congress, Scalise posed a particular obstacle to Rooney’s efforts to prevent oil exploration and exploitation off Florida’s Gulf shore. Like the Paradise Coast, Scalise’s Louisiana district is dominated by shoreline and wetlands—but unlike Florida, it is home to an extensive offshore oil exploration and exploitation industry.

This has led Scalise to be such a spokesman for the oil industry that one trade publication was led to ask if he was the “oil industry’s best friend in Congress.”

It also led to a memorable exchange between Rooney and Scalise when they were on the House floor together and Scalise told Rooney that the oil industry would object to his efforts to keep the eastern Gulf off-limits to exploration. In an address to a private group at the Alamo gun range and store in Naples on May 30, 2018, Rooney related what happened next:

“I was on the House floor with Steve Scalise and I got in his face and I said, ‘You’re telling me that the industry won’t go for protecting the Eastern Gulf in Florida?  What industry are you talking about?  I’m talking about tourism. I’m talking about why we’re all here, okay? Just because Louisiana is a pit, doesn’t mean we want to become a pit. Okay?’” 

In the 116th Congress, neither man got what he wanted: Scalise never opened the eastern Gulf and Rooney never closed it.

But Rooney retired in 2020 and Scalise stayed in Congress—and got another shot with Byron Donalds.

That second shot came in the form of two Scalise-related committees contributing to Donalds’ primary campaign: Scalise for Congress and his Eye of the Tiger PAC. In 2020, Scalise for Congress contributed $4,000 to Donalds so he could retire some of his primary election campaign debt and Eye of the Tiger PAC contributed $10,000.

The issue of oil drilling in the eastern Gulf is now largely moot. President Joe Biden campaigned against new offshore drilling and implemented that promise through an executive order issued a week after he took office. He even stopped the sale of oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that President Donald Trump had permitted. Even Trump retreated from Gulf oil exploitation during the election campaign, issuing an executive order on Sept. 8, 2020 putting Florida waters off limits for 10 years.

So the issue of eastern Gulf oil exploitation is off the table for the moment and will likely stay that way for the rest of Biden’s term and possibly beyond.

But that has not dampened Scalise’s support for Donalds. Already in the first quarter of 2021 Scalise for Congress contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ re-election campaign and Eye of the Tiger PAC contributed $5,000.

Those totals will undoubtedly rise in the days leading to the mid-term election, intended to buy Donalds’ loyalty both to the oil industry and to Scalise personally.

Big sugar

The sugar industry, or “big sugar” as it’s widely known in Southwest Florida, has vital interests in federal actions. Its cane fields are in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee, and much of the harvest is processed there. Issues of pollution, runoff and water management are fundamental to its operations—and the source of considerable environmental criticism.

Management of Lake Okeechobee falls to the US Army Corps of Engineers and there is constant debate and contention regarding water quality and responsibility for maintaining it. This deeply affects not only the Everglades, which protect the inhabited areas of the Paradise Coast and the 19th Congressional District and affects the area’s supply of drinking water. It also determines pollution and algae levels in the Caloosahatchee River that runs through Fort Myers and past Cape Coral. On the cleanliness of these waters rests its tourism industry and the health of everyone living along the river and the Gulf. (To the east it also similarly affects the communities along the St. Lucie River.)

In 2020, Donalds received $5,000 each from the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC.

For the 2022 election, Donalds has already received $5,000 for his primary race from the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC.

This year a new sugar donor entered the fray: the sugar industry’s American Sugar Cane League PAC, consisting largely of sugar cane farmers, which has contributed $1,000 to his primary race.

In an effort to show concern for water purity efforts, Donalds has been making visits to Lake O and attending various briefings, providing photo ops.

A different kind of insurance

The insurance industry is investing extensively in Donalds. As a heavily regulated industry with numerous interests in a wide variety of legislation and regulation, insurance companies and lobbies have long been very active politically, donating to a wide variety of lawmakers at all levels and in all states. In the 2020 election the industry spent $152 million to influence legislation, according to

Donalds sits on House subcommittees that have a direct impact on insurance issues. One is the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he sits on the economic and consumer policy subcommittee. But his other assignment may have even more of an insurance industry impact. On the House Small Business Committee, he sits on the Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access Subcommittee, and the Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations Subcommittee—and the key word in that title is “regulations.” Also, he has been a vocal and vociferous opponent of the Affordable Care Act

It explains the insurance industry PAC investment in his campaign.

  • CIGNA Corporation Political Action Committee: $1,000

Cigna Corp. is a major health insurance provider. It was ranked the 13th largest US corporation in the 2020 Fortune 500 list by total revenue, which was estimated to be $38.5 billion that year.

Insurance trade PACS include:

  • Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. Political Action Committee: $5,000
  • National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC: $1,000
  • The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers Political Action Committee: $1,000

Prepping for 2022

Other PACs contributing to Donalds in 2021 are, in addition to those already mentioned:

Ideological PACs

Founded in 1994, this PAC states on its website it is “on a mission to expose the Liberal Lies [sic] to minority voters all across America. With your help, Black America’s PAC will reclaim Black voters to the Republican Party by electing minority Republicans to national office and destroying the Liberal Lies that keep minorities voting for Democrats who do NOT share their values.”

The PAC was founded and is headed by Alvin Williams who worked on the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1987. He later worked at the Republican National Committee and advised candidates on African-American issues for a variety of campaigns.

In the 2020 election, this PAC contributed $1,500 to Donalds’ campaign.

This is an ideological PAC that attempts to elect conservative Republicans. This is the first time it has contributed to a Donalds campaign.

Other politicians

  • Building America’s Republican Representation PAC: $2,500

This is a PAC affiliated with Rep. Andy Barr (R-6-Ky.)

  • Building Leadership and Inspiring New Enterprise PAC: $2,000

This is a PAC affiliated with Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-3-Mo.). Leutkemeyer, like Donalds, voted to decertify the results of the 2020 election.

  • Jason Smith for Congress: $2,000

This is a committee affiliated with Rep. Jason Smith (R-8-Mo.). Smith is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, on which Donalds serves. Like Donalds, Smith voted to decertify the 2020 election. Of particular note, while on the House floor on Jan. 17, 2019, when Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-29-Calif.) was presiding, Smith shouted “Go back to Puerto Rico!” at House Democratic members.

Corporate PACs

  • CGCN PAC: $1,000

This is the PAC of CGCN Group, a conservative Washington, DC-based lobbying firm that provides “outreach to key policymakers,” gathers “strategic intelligence” and offers “a full suite of tools for media and grassroots communication to influence the policies that affect our clients.” One indication of its orientation: Most recently it made Peter Ventimiglia a partner after he worked seven years at Koch Industries where he was a primary architect of its communications strategy.

  • JM Family Enterprises, Inc. PAC: $1,000

JM Family Enterprises is a diversified automotive company. As its website puts it: “Our principal businesses focus on vehicle distribution and processing, finance and insurance and retail vehicle sales.” The company was launched in 1968 when the founder, Jim Moran, became Toyota distributor in five southeastern US states, including Florida. Its PAC contributed to Donalds’ 2020 campaign.

  • National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee: $1,000

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Representatives, activists, call to protect Florida from offshore oil drilling; endorse Biden position

06-25-20 Offshore oil press conferenceParticipants in today’s Zoom press conference.   (Image: Author)

June 25, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida members of the House of Representatives and grassroots activists today called on the state’s senators to work for passage of legislation protecting the state from offshore oil drilling.

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-26-Fla.), Emma Haydocy, director of Florida Bay Forever, a Keys-based environmental activist group, and Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, a water purity advocacy group, made the call in a Zoom press conference.

All endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s call for no new offshore drilling.

“At least in Florida, where we have a pristine environment, yes,” said Rooney in response to a question on Biden’s position.

The legislation the group supports is the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 205)), introduced by Rooney, passed in the House and currently in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. (For a full account of the legislation and the issue see “Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war.”)

All the speakers warned of the danger to Florida of offshore oil exploitation.

“It’s impossible to guarantee spill-free offshore drilling,” said Rooney, who noted that he had been on the board of an offshore drilling company and had worked as a contractor on one the largest offshore oil platforms.

“Anything that’s going to spill [in the Gulf of Mexico] is going to cover Florida,” he said, citing the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 and others since. “We can’t have the threat or even the potential threat against Florida.” He added that even the oil industry recognizes the danger presented by offshore drilling and the Shell Oil Company recently downsized a planned drilling platform by 90 percent.

The opposition to offshore oil drilling includes the US Defense Department and other members of Congress representing states with the potential for offshore drilling, according to Rooney.

Rooney recalled that when Ryan Zinke was Interior Department secretary (March 1, 2017 to January 2, 2019) he came to a meeting of members of Congress called by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.). At the time, Zinke had declared that Florida—and Florida alone—was protected from offshore oil drilling. Representatives from other states complained and asked why Florida was exempted. “We just got there first,” said Rooney.

(According to a July 16, 2019 report from the US House Natural Resources Committee, the Florida exemption was established to aid then-Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate bid.)

On May 29 The Paradise Progressive posed questions to Florida Republican senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio asking whether they had taken any actions to support or advance HR 205 in the Senate.

No answer has been received to date.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg



Rooney, Castor, renew efforts to stop Gulf offshore oil exploitation

06-15-20 Letter to Secretary Bernhardt re Florida offshore drilling reports_Page_1 cropped

June 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) are leading a renewed bipartisan effort to protect Florida Gulf shores from offshore oil exploitation.

In a June 15 letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Rooney, Castor and 16 other members of the Florida congressional delegation urge him “to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development.”

The members recount the history of efforts to protect Florida from oil exploitation and ask four questions of the secretary:

  1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI [Department of Interior] have a target date for its release?
  2. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
  3. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
  4. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?

In response to a June 10 article in Politico that the administration planned to begin oil leasing in Gulf waters if President Donald Trump is re-elected in November, the Department of Interior’s press secretary tweeted the same day that the article was “#FakeNews based entirely on anonymous sources who don’t know what they’re talking about. Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.”

However, identical concerns were expressed by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2019. (For a full report on the Gulf offshore oil issue, see the June 6 article: Trump, Biden and the Gulf shore oil war.)

The full text of the Rooney-Castor letter follows:

June 15, 2020

The Honorable David Bernhardt Secretary

U.S.     Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Bernhardt:

We write to urge you to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development. As you know, in 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida with broad bipartisan support. Despite that vote and the economic and environmental damage left by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, it appears that the Department of the Interior (DOI) is preparing to open the door to oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts shortly after the November 2020 election. As representatives from Florida, we are asking for clarification on DOI’s plans for drilling off the coasts of our state.

Florida relies on coastlines unencumbered by oil and gas drilling to sustain its economy, preserve its marine life and natural resources, and protect our national security. This past April marked ten years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when we saw firsthand the destruction offshore drilling can have on our state. Our state and local economies cannot sustain another disaster like that – especially on top of the current economic struggles tied to the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, the eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical testing and training area for our military, and the Department of Defense has stated clearly that the Gulf Test Range is an “irreplaceable national asset” for combat force readiness. Any oil and gas development would be an obstacle to military preparedness and national security.

Additionally, the people of Florida are also clearly opposed to oil and gas development off our coast. A constitutional amendment on Florida’s November 2018 ballot to ban offshore drilling in state waters passed overwhelmingly. Here is objective proof that Floridians recognize that the state’s economy depends on a pristine environment, and that offshore drilling threatens Florida’s future.

In response to the June 10 Politico story, DOI’s Press Secretary tweeted, “Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.” In light of our strong interest to preserve and protect Florida’s coasts, we request that you provide clarification through written answers to the following questions:

    1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI have a target date for its release?
    1. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
    1. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
    1. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?


Kathy Castor,  Francis Rooney

Darren Soto,  Matt Gaetz, Gus M. Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel,  Alcee L. Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Posey, John H. Rutherford, Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2020 by David Silverberg


Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war

05-23-20 Trump boat parade 2Pro-Trump boaters take to the waters along southern Collier County on May 23.

June 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

This year’s Memorial Day weekend began on Saturday, May 23 with hundreds of boaters in Southwest Florida launching a “Making Waves” boat parade to show their support for President Donald Trump and his re-election.

They had clear sailing on pristine waters from Naples Bay to Marco Island.

The irony is that if they get their wish and Trump is re-elected, those waters won’t be so pristine anymore.

That’s because if Trump is re-elected the eastern Gulf of Mexico will be opened to oil exploration and exploitation. In a second Trump administration, any future flotilla will have to dodge tankers, tugs, barges, tenders, lighters, shuttles, seismic testing boats and drilling ships among other vessels. Most of all, they would be maneuvering amidst immense drilling rigs. And the water will be slick with debris, pollution and—most of all—oil.

This is not fantasy or some conspiracy theory.

In 2019, after considerable confusion and mixed signals from the Trump administration whether the eastern Gulf would be opened to oil lease sales, Congress concluded, “the Trump Administration intends, if the President is reelected, to include the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in its final Five-Year Program and to hold lease sales in the Eastern Gulf as early as 2022.”

That’s stated in a July 16, 2019 report from the US House Natural Resources Committee. It goes on to say: “Given the widespread belief that a tweet from [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke declaring Florida off-limits to offshore oil and gas leasing was issued to support Florida Governor Rick Scott in his Senate race, the Committee is concerned that the Administration is playing similar games with its 2019–2024 program and intends to wait until after the 2020 presidential election, in which Florida may be a key swing state, before revealing an unpopular plan to lease off of Florida’s shore.”

Those are pretty strong words for a relatively obscure congressional report accompanying a piece of legislation.

What is more, they were not the statements of cranky Democrats taking potshots at Trump. In fact, they were issued to explain a piece of legislation introduced by a Republican.

And that Republican was Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

Rooney’s crusade

11-16-19 Francis_Rooney_official_congressional_photo cropped
Rep. Francis Rooney

On Sept. 11, 2019, the US House of Representatives voted 248 to 180 to pass the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 205)).

The bill is pretty simple: it “permanently extends the moratorium on oil and gas leasing, preleasing, and related activities” in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It prohibits sale of leases, oil exploration, drilling or extracting oil along Florida’s Gulf coastline in perpetuity.

That moratorium had been in place in one form or another since 1982, maintained by congressional action and presidential decisions, which applied not just in Florida but in a wide variety of waters around the North American continental shelf, including Alaska. However, in one of his earliest acts, in April 2017 Trump issued an executive order opening up American waters to oil exploitation. The order was challenged in court but the Trump administration proceeded with planning for the sale of oil leases beginning in 2022 when the current moratorium expires.

Rooney was elected in 2016 on the same platform—literally, they stood on the same stage—as Trump. What was more, Rooney and his construction companies had extensive ties to the oil and gas industry and much of his fortune resulted from work for it. One of his earliest political donors was the consortium building the controversial XL Pipeline. And even Rooney’s origins are in Oklahoma’s oil patch.

So perhaps Rooney had a better sense than most people of what was involved in offshore oil exploitation and how it would affect Southwest Florida’s tourism, hospitality, and retail businesses and overall quality of life. After all, he lives on the water in Naples’ Port Royal.

That’s why it was particularly interesting when, after Trump’s executive order, regardless of his other activities, Rooney began working to protect the Gulf coast from oil exploitation.

But in this effort Rooney was opposed by the oil industry, which wants the option to drill everywhere and anywhere, and his fellow Republicans, in particular the powerful Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.), the Minority Whip in the House.

It’s worth noting the unique role of Louisiana in this: politically, the state and the oil industry are virtually one and the same.  Offshore oil exploitation has brought great wealth and employment to the state and the people involved in the industry. However, it has also brought pollution and the occasional disaster, most spectacularly the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and the subsequent nearly five month-long oil spill—really more of an oil eruption.

In Congress, Rooney couldn’t make headway on maintaining the moratorium and one day he confronted Scalise directly, as he related to a small group of constituents meeting at the Alamo gun range and store in Naples in 2018.

“I was on the House floor with Steve Scalise and I got in his face and I said, ‘You’re telling me that the industry won’t go for protecting the Eastern Gulf in Florida?  What industry are you talking about?  I’m talking about tourism. I’m talking about why we’re all here, okay? Just because Louisiana is a pit, doesn’t mean we want to become a pit. Okay?’” said Rooney.

Nor could Rooney make any headway with Trump’s Interior Department. He found that officials in the Department of Defense supported maintaining the moratorium because they trained pilots over the eastern Gulf. “…So the military is our ally on this,” he said. “The Department of the Interior is not.  They want to ‘drill-baby-drill.’  They are Republicans, right?”

While Republicans were in power, Rooney and the moratorium made no progress.

USCG photo oil rig cropped 11-7-17

Vessels service offshore oil rigs.     (Photo: USCG)

Enter the Democrats

Then, in 2018 the House changed hands and suddenly Rooney faced a new Democratic power structure and a new Speaker of the House—Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

On the first day of the session, Jan. 3, 2019, he introduced HR 205 with Rep. Cathy Kastor (D-14-Fla.), who represents Hillsborough County in the Tampa area, as his first co-sponsor. The legislation gained momentum, picking up other members of the Florida delegation from both parties as co-sponsors until by June he had nine Democrats and nine Republicans.

Pelosi agreed to move the bill forward and on Sept. 11, the same day he called on his Republican colleagues to acknowledge climate change in an essay in Politico magazine, Rooney also saw his bill passed in the House. All of Florida’s representatives, both Republican and Democratic, voted for it with only one dissenter, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3-Fla.).

From there it went to the Republican Senate where it was introduced the next day by Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. There it has languished to this day.

Why? Because with Republicans in charge, the odds were stacked against it: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t inclined to move it and the Trump White House threatened to veto it. The Interior Department, the fossil fuel industry, the offshore drilling industry and the Republican leadership are against it.

Rooney has kept working for its passage.

“I’ve been working with Senators Rubio and Scott, as well as others whose support will be needed to advance HR. 205 in the Senate,” Rooney stated in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive. “They’re making sure that the Senate realizes the military, economic, and ecologic significance of banning offshore drilling east of the Military Mission Line” (the geographic line in the Gulf where the military trains)

There are possibilities that the legislation could still advance: “We’re keeping all options on the table for ways to advance HR 205, as stand-alone legislation, or as a potential amendment to other legislation. I’m optimistic that we can still be successful in this congressional session,” he stated.

On May 29, The Paradise Progressive asked the following questions about HR 205 of Sens. Rubio and Scott in a message to their offices:

    1. Since its arrival in the Senate, have you taken any actions to advance this bill?
    2. Do you plan to take any actions to move this bill to full consideration by the Senate before the end of the year?
    3. If you plan to take any actions, what do you plan to do?

As of this writing, no response has been received.

Logic and illogic

Conventional political logic would dictate that if you’re a sitting president who must win the state of Florida to be re-elected, you do something that will make you popular in that state and gain you votes—like supporting HR 205. That would mean an endorsement from the president, breaking the legislation out of committee and getting it enacted into law before the general election on Nov. 3.

“The people of Florida have made it clear that they don’t want offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico,” stated Rooney. “It endangers our tourism and real estate-based economy, and it adversely affects military readiness. There will be a political price to pay if the will of the people is ignored. The Trump administration can move this forward if they want to protect Florida.”

True enough. But conventional political logic has not been a hallmark of the Trump administration and it’s not in evidence now.

Of course, there are bigger issues dominating the landscape at the moment than drilling for oil off Southwest Florida—like whether America will remain a democracy and whether racism can be uprooted. Still, oil is an issue that particularly matters to the people, the region and the environment.

“It’s my hope that our next representative will exhibit the same commitment and have the successes that we’ve had over these last four years in fixing our water and protecting our environment,” stated Rooney, who is retiring after this term.

But with all of the Republicans vying for his seat pledging their blind obedience to Donald Trump, that’s not likely.

However, one person who has paid attention to the topic of offshore drilling is Democratic presidential challenger former Vice President Joe Biden.

On March 15, Joe Biden debated Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, DC. In a discussion of climate change Biden said: “Number one, no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.”

Subsequent analysis indicated that Biden meant no new offshore drilling; not that he would close down existing wells. But that was good enough for Florida’s Gulf coast.

However, this was not something that was going to be taken lying down by the offshore drilling industry.

On Tuesday, May 26, the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), the organization of the offshore oil industry, hit back by releasing a study, “The Economic Impacts of the Gulf of Mexico Oil & Natural Gas Industry,” warning of dire consequences if there was no new leasing or permitting in the Gulf of Mexico. Projecting out to the year 2040 it predicted losses in oil extraction, jobs, industry spending, gross domestic product and government revenues. It pointed out that the industry is a pillar in the state economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.

Florida is not yet on the list—but it is certainly in the industry’s sights.

And incredibly, like a raid deep into enemy territory, on May 27 an article reprinted from the Lafayette Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La., of all places, appeared in Naples, Fla., in an across-the-page headline on the front of the Naples Daily News Business section: “Gulf drilling restrictions could prove damaging.” It put forward NOIA’s propaganda without comment or question.

With this the industry proved that it really did have a long reach—right into Rooney’s own eyeballs and the heart of the opposition.

03-15-20 Biden no more drillingJoe Biden at the moment in his debate with Bernie Sanders when he uttered the words “no more drilling, including offshore.”    (Image: CNN)

Analysis: Boatin’ for Biden

“I’m thankful that the Florida delegation, with the exception of one member, came together in a bipartisan way to pass HR 205 out of the House,” stated Rooney to The Paradise Progressive. “This shows the strong commitment that Floridians have to protecting our waters, our economy, and our military preparedness.”

Many Floridians do indeed have a commitment to Florida’s natural environment and they will keep working to protect it. But it’s also very clear that the only hope Southwest Florida—indeed, all of the Florida Gulf coast—has to protect its shores, its environment and its current economy is the election of Joe Biden as president.

Floridians of all political persuasions will get no succor or satisfaction on this issue from President Trump or his administration. He and his minions are just waiting for his re-election to pounce and then it’s “drill-baby-drill.” And the offshore oil and gas industry will certainly show no mercy.

So those in the flotilla of south Collier County boaters who took to the water on Memorial Day weekend should think very carefully about what they’re wishing for. If they really got their wish and Donald Trump was re-elected, the Florida waters and beaches they so enjoy will likely become a dystopian hellscape of oil rigs, ships and slicks.

But of course, that’s not the future that has to be. Perhaps just enough Floridians will realize that their best interests, the interests of their state, their country, their environment and their future lies in electing Joe Biden.

And then they’ll vote.

Offshore oil rigs 11-2-17

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg



Trump nominee for Interior Dept. could roll back protections against SWFL oil exploitation

02-05-19 David Bernhardt DoInt. cropped

David Bernhardt, nominee for Interior Secretary.    (Photo: DoInt.)

Southwest Florida could feel a major impact if David Bernhardt, currently the number two official at the Department of the Interior, is confirmed as secretary, with the potential to roll back oil and gas regulations and restraints just when private landowners and the oil industry are mounting a new exploitation effort aimed at Florida.

Bernhardt was nominated to be secretary by President Donald Trump on Feb. 4.

The US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold hearings on Bernhardt’s nomination sometime soon. (As of this writing, a date had not been set. This report will be updated when it is announced.)

The 49-year-old Bernhardt is a former oil industry lobbyist whose policy positions were closely aligned with Ryan Zinke, his predecessor as secretary. In the past Bernhardt has lobbied on behalf of Delta Petroleum Corp., Noble Energy Inc. and California’s Westlands Water District, a government agency that has fought environmental regulation.

Zinke and Bernhardt’s shared policy positions included opening up federal lands to oil exploration and exploitation and removing environmental protections and regulations.

As Bernhardt put it in an interview earlier this year with E&E News, an energy and environmental publication, “I can’t think of an instance in the past year where I’ve done something where I would not be very confident that he and I were 100 percent on the same page on.”

During the government shutdown, Bernhardt was criticized for having unpaid Interior Department employees working on opening up US waters to oil and gas drilling and issuing permits for seismic drilling. Though initially deemed non-essential employees and therefore furloughed, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management brought back at least 40 employees to work on offshore oil and gas projects.

Bernhardt has also been criticized for making the department less transparent and making information more difficult to access, avoiding the congressional confirmation process for key subordinates and limiting the scope or weakening laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

In addition to his own inclinations, Bernhardt has cover from President Donald Trump himself, who, in his State of the Union speech, boasted of unleashing a revolution in oil and gas production and whose April 2017 executive order opening up federal lands to oil exploitation remains in force.

Even Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), a pro-Trump Republican, has complained that the Interior Department has a “drill-baby-drill” approach to offshore oil exploitation, threatening the beaches of Southwest Florida.

“The military is our ally on this [a permanent oil drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico],” Rooney told an audience at an invitation-only meeting at The Alamo gun range and store in Naples on May 30, 2018. “The Department of the Interior is not.  They want to ‘drill- baby-drill.’ They are Republicans, right?”

Bernhardt’s nomination on Feb. 4 unleashed a torrent of criticism and opposition. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-2-Hawaii), called Bernhardt “a walking conflict of interest” in one tweet and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) called him “another scandal-plagued fox guarding the henhouse,” in another.

“Bernhardt might as well be an ideological clone of Ryan Zinke. The American public deserves a true steward who will protect our lands, our wildlife and our waters – not another industry shill who will continue to sell our precious natural resources to the highest bidders for exploitation,” stated Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activism group. Her sentiment was echoed by other environmental organizations.

The Naples-based Conservancy of Southwest Florida has not yet taken a position on Bernhardt’s nomination.

The Bernhardt nomination comes just as activity is mounting among private landowners and oil companies to exploit potential oil reserves beneath the Everglades.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Florida First District Court of Appeal ruled that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had to issue a permit for an exploratory oil well to Kanter Real Estate LLC, a company that owns about 20,000 acres in the Everglades near the city of Miramar.

The Burnett Oil Company is already exploring areas in the Big Cypress Preserve. Tocala LLC, based in Mississippi, has received a permit to detonate explosives in 6,000 holes in an area just north of Big Cypress. Trend Exploration, based in North Fort Myers, has applied for a permit to explore in Caracara Prairie Preserve in Collier County.

(For a fuller account of oil activities in the Everglades and the region, see David Fleshler’s Feb. 3 article, More oil drilling proposed for southern Florida in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.)

Analyis: The rush is on but not necessarily the boom

While the regulatory climate and the presidential mood are promoting oil exploitation in marginal oil producing regions like Southwest Florida, the real determinant will be oil prices. The higher the prices and the demand, the greater the likelihood that the risk and expense of Southwest Florida oil exploration and drilling will be worthwhile.

02-07-19 crude-oil-price-history-chart-2019-02-07-macrotrends

Crude oil prices over the past 70 years.   (Source:

The oil industry tends to be one of boom and bust and while the general trend of prices has been up, at the moment prices are relatively stable. Oil exploiters have to factor in the lead time of exploration and extraction as well as the potential profits as they decide to pursue oil in places like Southwest Florida.

Some politicians may think that they can have acceptable oil exploitation on land while not harming the shore. But pro-exploitation advocates should remember: Exploitation will be on both land and sea. If it’s worthwhile to drill on land, it will also be worthwhile to drill offshore and it’s very unlikely that oil companies will pursue one and not the other.

The danger of oil exploitation in Florida, of course, is pollution either of the water table on land or along the beaches on shore. Pollution of the aquifer will make life unlivable on land, while pollution on shore will destroy tourism and the Southwest Florida economy.

Either way, the Southwest Florida environment is under increasing threat. There is no reason to expect any support or sensitivity from the Trump administration.

Offshore oil rigs 11-2-17

Liberty lives in light

Rep. Kathy Castor introduces Florida Coastal Protection Act to ban offshore oil exploration and drilling

01-08-19 rep. castor oil slick news conference
In a 2010 news conference following the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, Rep. Kathy Castor calls for holding oil companies responsible for environmental damage.   (Photo: Office of Rep. Castor)

Jan. 8, 2019 by David Silverberg


Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) has reintroduced the Florida Coastal Protection Act to make permanent the moratorium on offshore oil drilling that is set to expire in 2022. As of this writing, the bill has yet to receive a number or be referred to a committee.

“Here in Florida, we’re keenly aware of the devastating impacts of oil and gas drilling off our shores,” Castor said according to a statement issued by her office.  “Our state’s vital natural resources – and our state’s economy – cannot risk the devastation brought by blowouts, nor can it afford the high costs of carbon pollution.  We have an obligation to act now to protect our beautiful Florida coastline, our economy and our future.”

State waters begin at the state’s shores and extend to three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and nine miles into the Gulf.  The Florida Coastal Protection Act extends the recently approved state moratorium to federal waters.

Castor was joined by Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), Vern Buchanan (R-16-Fla.) and Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

According to Castor’s statement, the moratorium currently in place protects waters up to 235 miles off the west coast of Florida from oil drilling and will expire in June 2022 unless made permanent.

Rooney, who joined Castor in her 2017 effort to pass the same legislation is supporting her again. “The people of Florida are clearly opposed to offshore drilling,” Castor’s statement quoted him saying.  “The November 2018 ballot contained a ban on offshore drilling, Amendment 9, which won with over 68 percent in favor.  This widespread support is a clear indication that voters are overwhelmingly in support of Florida coastal protection. As Floridians, we are well aware that our livelihood depends on a pristine environment.”

Rooney’s efforts to stop offshore oil exploration and drilling were thwarted in the 115th Congress by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.), the House Majority Whip and a leading proponent of oil and gas interests.

In addition to Rooney, Rep. Crist stated: “Florida voters spoke clearly in November: no drilling off our coasts. Our job is to be their voice in Washington, sending that same message loud and clear with this bill to block harmful drilling and exploration off of Florida.  We cannot afford another disaster devastating our waters, health, and economy.”

Rep. Buchanan stated: “Allowing drilling off of Florida’s pristine coasts would be a colossal mistake. Red tide has already plagued the Sunshine State – it would be imprudent to invite the potential for another catastrophic oil spill that would devastate Florida’s economy and environment.  As co-chair of the Florida congressional delegation, I will continue working with colleagues in both parties to protect the state’s beautiful coasts and waters.”


Castor introduced the same bill in April 2017, a companion to a measure introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in the Senate. In the House, the standalone measure remained in committee but became a proposed amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. However, House Republicans would not allow it to come to a vote.

This year Castor is introducing it in a Democratic House and she chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, so it has a much better chance of advancing in the chamber.


Liberty lives in light