As revealed in a blockbuster article by the Miami Herald today, several cruise lines were so concerned with losing three recent referendums pending before voters in Key West, that they “knew they had to do something to sway the public into voting no” so they “secretly funded (a) disinformation campaign.”

The three referendums would drastically limit the number and size of cruise ships allowed to dock at the city’s port. Instead of discussing the issues in a transparent manner, certain cruise lines “secretly backed ‘dark money’ mailers” claiming that the resolution would defund Key West police.”

The Miami Herald’s article, written by Taylor Dolven, Nicholas Nehamas and Gwen Filosa, mentions an “innocuously named nonprofit” by the name of “Protect our Jobs, Inc.,” which began “deluging Key West mailboxes with ominous and misleading mailers” before the November 3rd referendum, The mailers falsely claimed that the referendums would “cripple Key West’s economy, forcing drastic cuts to public services and safety.”

The Miami Herald describes how the misleading disinformation campaign was secretly funded by Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises, through a number of political committees with ties to Cruise Lines International Association, including Florida Cruise PC and the Community Leadership PAC. The lobbying firm, Alcalde & Fay, which has represented CLIA for over over the past twenty years, and a Tallahassee lobbying firm, Rubin & Turnbull, were involved in orchestrating the dirty money scheme.

The scare-tactics failed. Key West voters approved all three referendums. 63% of Key West voters voted to limit the number of daily cruise ship visitors to 1,500; 61% of voters voted to prohibit cruise ships with a capacity of more than 1,300 people from docking in Key West; and 81% voted to give docking priority to cruise ships that have the best health and environmental records.

Key West resident Arlo Haskell, who supported the referendums, and a member of the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships and the Global Cruise Activist Network, kept his campaign focused on a factual discussion of issues. He provided testimonials of people who live in Key West.  He focused on the negative effects of air and water pollution on the sensitive marine environment of the Florida Keys and the large crowds of cruise ship guests who spend relatively small amounts of money during a short period of time in the small port. He handed out free yard signs. This which sharply contrasted with the cruise industry’s slick, big money disinformation campaign which was secretly funded with over $250,000 from the cruise industry.

The article shows the power of local journalism. It alone is worth paying the modest subscription to the Miami Herald.

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