The NY Times has a fairly ugly story, though hardly unique, of a project to restore water flow to the Everglades turning into a corporate welfare project for United States Sugar. The short story is that in a time when United States Sugar was in desperate financial straights and when real estate prices in Florida were tumbling, the Florida government treated USS like it had all the power, rolling over to paying above-market prices and letting USS pick and choose the land parcels to be purchased. The story did not mention much about it, but there is a second large sugar producer in the area who it strikes me could have been played off against USS to get the best deal.
Remember that the US Sugar operation likely exists only because of sugar tariffs and import quotas that raise the price of sugar in the US well above the world norm. So consumers are paying extra, and drinking soft drinks with crappy HFCS, so that US Sugar can screw up the Everglades and get bailed out by taxpayers. Readers will understand it is the purest coincidence that US Sugar's attorney is chief of staff to the state's governor.
From running my recreation privatization blog, I know that there are many folks who will ascribe this to a failure of private enterprise and an excess of corporate speech and money in politics. But to my mind this is a great example of why election and speech limits don't have any utility. This is all back room lobbying, cronyism, and quid pro quo politics that doesn't show up in any monetary ledger, and thus are not and have never been subject to any limits. As I wrote here:
when the stakes of government are so high, money and influence never goes away. Just as in any economy, when you ban money, a barter economy arises. So if we ban large campaign spending, then the quid pro quo becomes grass roots efforts and voter mobilization. Groups like the UAW become more powerful (we are seeing that already). They are trading their member's votes for influence. Connected companies like GE are doing the same thing, trading their support for legislation that is generally hostile to commerce for specific clauses in said legislation that exempts GE and/or makes the laws even more punishing on their competition. The problem with all this activity is it is hard to see and totally unaccountable "” at least with advertisements we see people out in the open with their agendas.
The other obvious point is that no private entity would ever allow themselves to get rolled so badly by US Sugar. They would have sense USS's weakness and broken its knees in the negotiation. One US Sugar manager even says as much:
For its board members, Mr. Crist's overture was appealing in part because they figured a government purchase would be far more lucrative than a private deal.
"It wasn't another company coming in and bottom-fishing you," Mr. Wade said. "They knew it would be for fair-market appraisals."
Over at my privatization blog, I wrote about a deal in Chicago where the government made four or five huge mistakes in issuing a private contract that a private company (or at least one that is not going to go bankrupt) would never make. So of course the problems are blamed on privatization.