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The U.S. sugar industry: Names to know

Major players

The Fanjuls: This Palm Beach, Fla.-based family controls the world’s largest sugar refining operation. Led by the politically connected brothers Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul and José “Pepe” Fanjul, the family farms and processes sugar cane on its 160,000-acre holdings in Florida and on additional land in the Dominican Republic. They control refineries in Baltimore, New York, California, Louisiana, Belize, Mexico, Portugal and Britain. The Cuban-born brothers are deeply involved in politics, with Alfy raising funds for Democrats and Pepe doing so for Republicans. The brothers personally lobby lawmakers to protect the sugar program.

Kevin Price: The Washington lobbyist for Minnesota-based American Crystal Sugar, the leading processor of sugar beets, plays a big role in sugar’s success in Washington. In part, that is because his political action committee is the largest PAC donor in the agriculture sector. Price, a leading legislative strategist, grew up in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and says advocating for sugar “is in the blood.”

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.): The liberal, adored by labor and influential among fellow Democrats, has become an influential advocate among her colleagues for the sugar program. The Fanjul-owned Domino refinery in Baltimore is a major Maryland employer.

Rep. Michael K. Conaway (R-Tex.): As chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on general farm commodities and risk management, Conaway oversees sugar policy. His strong support for government intervention in sugar carries weight with fellow House conservatives who say they want to shrink government and promote free markets.

Larry Combest: A former congressman and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Combest is now an influential advocate for the sugar industry. He runs a Texas-based lobbying and consulting firm that represents sugar and other commodity groups with his partner, the former deputy staff director of the committee, Tom Sell.

Luther Markwart: The executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association has spent 31 years building the sugar lobby in Washington, including the well-known fly-ins in which dozens of growers, mostly from the Upper Midwest, visit Capitol Hill.

Jim Simon: Simon (pronounced see-MOAN), is the general manager of the Louisiana-based American Sugar Cane League. His familiarity with the South comes in handy when industry officials are trying to connect with Southern lawmakers.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.): For years a critic of U.S. sugar policy and what he described as the harmful effects on American candy companies, Schumer voted this year against a measure to scale back the sugar program. A major Fanjul-owned refinery is located in Yonkers, N.Y. Sugar lobbyists describe Schumer’s change of heart as a milestone in their efforts to protect the program.

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.): The 69-year-old ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and a former chairman, is known for straight talk, cowboy boots and piloting his own airplane. He is a fierce defender of the sugar program; his Minnesota district has the largest concentration of beet growers in the country.

Kelly Erickson: As president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association board of directors, Erickson leads a group credited with strong grass-roots outreach to all sugar-state members of Congress. Like other beet farmers, he makes the pitch personal, describing multiple generations of his family sugar-beet farm in Minnesota’s Red River Valley.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): Rubio, an outspoken defender of the sugar program and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, courted the Fanjul family during his 2010 Senate campaign. In his 2012 memoir, “An American Son,” Rubio credited a Fanjul fundraiser on Labor Day weekend in 2009 for helping him surpass a critical early fundraising goal. This year, 60 supporters paying $10,000 each gathered on the terrace of Pepe Fanjul’s Pam Beach home to toast Rubio.

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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