Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards Puts His Campaign Donations

St. Pete business tycoon Bill Edwards may be a rookie when it comes to owning a pro soccer team, but the Rowdies' owner is a grizzled veteran when it comes to political contributions.  Since 2003, Edwards has given more than $1.3 million to political campaigns, 99% of which affiliated with Republicans.

 Recipients of Edwards' donations include the Republican Party of Florida, National Republican Committee, Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan, Latvala's Florida Leadership Committee, Ohio Congressman John Boehner, and Gov. Charlie Crist prior to his party-switches.
The donations were among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The few Democrats Edwards has supported include former New York congressman Gary Ackerman and former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

WTSP found no political contributions from the team itself, but at least one current executive donated to David Jolly's congressional campaign in 2014.

Where Buccaneers' Players, Glazers Put Their Campaign Donations

When it comes to athletes contributing to political campaigns, no Tampa-area players have been as engaged as former members of the Bucs.  Nearly a dozen players have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to mostly-Democratic campaigns, including Kellen Winslow Jr., Michael Clayton, and Cato June all donating to Obama.

The donations were among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, also leaned to the left, contributing $46,000 to National Democratic committees and another $4,800 to Charlie Crist's Independent Senatorial run in 2009.

However, the team itself has been largely bipartisan with its campaign contributions, donating tens of thousands of dollars to both the state Democratic and Republican parties in the late 1990s when it was working to build a stadium with public dollars. The Bucs also donated $57,800 to Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010 and $25,000 to Friends of Greenlight in 2014.

Other donors in the database include former coach Raheem Morris and former players Chidi Ahanotu, Jamael "Ronde" Barber, Brooks, and Brad Culpepper.

Lightning, Vinik Donate Generously to Political Campaigns

In addition to support of regional transit efforts ($75,000 worth), the Tampa Bay Lightning - through personal donations from top executives - has also contributed money to every sitting Hillsborough County Commissioner.

The findings were included in my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.
Team CEO Tod Leiweke has contributed to the campaign accounts of all seven Hillsborough County commissioners.  He also has contributed to Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, Congressional candidate Gwen Graham, and when we worked for the 49ers in 2008-2009, he contributed $10,000 to the NFL's political action committee.

And owner Jeff Vinik donated more than $50,000 to national Republican committees as well as $73,300 to the Romney Victory Fund in 2012.

Other individuals included in the comprehensive donation report include top Lightning executives and former star Dave Andreychuk.

Rays Start Funding Republican Campaigns, Contrary to Sternberg's Previous Political Leanings

The Tampa Bay Rays have made their first major political contribution in Florida, a $15,000 check to the political action committee run by powerful State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. 

The donation was among the many findings of my recent piece for WTSP/10 News on political contributions from sports teams and sports stars.  To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

The Rays had never made any major political contributions previously, other than $101,120 in contributions to the non-partisan transit campaigns in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The donation to Latvala's powerful PAC underscores the importance of teams lobbying the legislature when they are interested in landing large taxpayer stadium subsidies.

"The party that has the majority gets to pass legislation...and reaps the benefit of those dollars," said former legislator Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, who pointed to all the other Florida sports teams that have also poured money into Republican coffers in Florida.
Previously, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg had tended to favor Democrats, including a $5,000 donation to President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.  Also, minority owner Timothy Mullen has been a loyal Democratic contributor, writing large checks to the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
However, not all Rays owners lean left; minority owners Thomas Sansone and Vince Naimoli have both been loyal Republican donors for years.

Other individuals included in the comprehensive donation report include Rays President Brian Auld, President of Baseball Operations Silverman, broadcaster Dewayne Staats, former manager Lou Pinella, and Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs.

Athletes, Teams Donate Big to Political Campaigns

Sports teams – as well as their owners, executives, and athletes – are some of the nation's most loyal political contributors.  And since most teams receive some sort of public subsidy, certain donations also raise questions about how the contributors are influencing lawmakers.

I analyzed thousands of financial records from federal, state, and local elections offices for WTSP/10 Investigates to follow how millions of sports dollars are pouring into political campaigns.

"What these owners are asking for...is hundreds of millions of dollars, so anyone would take that return on investment," said former legislator Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg.

Individual donors include former local stars like Derrick Brooks, Dave Andreychuk, Wade Boggs, and Shelton Quarles; current executives like Rays President Matt Silverman and Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke, as well as all of the owners of Tampa Bay's major pro franchises.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg has favored Democratic candidates in the past, but the Rays recently started donating more money to state-level Republicans. Hafner suggests Sternberg isn't shifting political leanings, but is seeking access to state's dominant party.

"The party that has the majority gets to pass legislation…and reaps the benefit of those dollars," Hafner said.

Yet the Rays' $15,000 contributions to Republican lawmakers and their committees this year pale in comparison to the donations of their fellow stadium subsidy-seeking counterparts. In recent years, the Florida Panthers and their subsidiaries have contributed $124,000 to state-level GOP campaigns; Miami Dolphins-led organizations contributed $83,000; the Orlando Magic gave $37,000; and the Jacksonville Jaguars forked out $28,800.

To see the entire list and interactive database, continue reading here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Another Miami Team Making it Tough on Rays Stadium Hopes

As if the Marlins Stadium boondoggle wasn't enough, the Florida Panthers' continued push for stadium subsidies while drawing south of 10,000 fans a game this season will not do the Rays any favors when it comes to convincing lawmakers to spend state dollars on a stadium:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vinik Offers Channelside Land for USF Medical School...Not Stadium

It is all happening so fast.  After years of inactivity downtown, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is now moving fast to assemble land, hire lobbyists...then this:
The WUSF report indicates the offer includes a parcel near the corner of Channelside and Meridian, and plans will likely shape up over the next couple of months.  The annual legislative "ask" from the Board of Governors is in January.  WUSF adds:
USF is asking for $62 million in state funds over the next three years, including $17 million in the upcoming session, for a new Medical School building, along with another $15.8 million for the Heart Institute. The Board of Governors told USF officials last week that they need to pick a location for the school - whether it's on the Tampa campus or downtown - before they'd consider that request.
As far as Vinik's contribution, the donation of land is quite common for a developer looking to increase the value of his surrounding land.  The USF Medical School is also believed to be the reason he hired lobbyist Brian Ballard, among others.

So far, most of Vinik's contributions - include $60 million in arena upgrades - have come out of his own pocket.  Which is why he's probably due some help from both state funds and downtown CRA funds.  Just don't expect any Rays team funds - there has been no talk of adding a stadium to the Channelside plans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Topkin: New Rays Prez Optimistic About Stadium Saga

Marc Topkin spoke to new Rays president Brian Auld today {link to Times' site}.  An excerpt:
"I'm optimistic," Auld said. "I think that things are going very well with (St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman). I think we're having productive talks. And I really look forward to seeing what the future brings.

"Obviously, we need to figure it out, and we understand that, I think our incentives and the community's incentives are perfectly aligned. Now figuring out exactly what that is and where the stadium should go is very challenging. But it needs to go in the best place for the Rays and it needs to go in the best place for the community."
Topkin reports the Rays and St. Pete are still hopeful for an amendment worked out before the end of the year, but its curious why all talk has been about location...and so little about the more important issue - financing.
Auld said in his previous role as senior vice president of business operations he had "ridden side-car" on the stadium issue and felt he was "up to speed" but also would rely heavily on Melanie Lenz, the vice president of development who took over much of the stadium project when Michael Kalt departed in January for private business. Auld also said he would consult frequently with principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

Developers Fail to Front Most of Promised Cash, County May Hand Over $11M Anyway

Facing a Tuesday deadline (which was already extended) to come up with financing for its spring training youth baseball mega-complex, a Gary Sheffield-endorsed group of investors has apparently come up with enough evidence to convince Pasco Co. to release $11 million in bed tax dollars.  The Trib's Laura Kinsler reports:
With minutes to spare before a midnight deadline, Blue Marble founder James Talton and former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield came through with a financing plan for the $23 million needed for the county to release $11 million in tourist tax revenue it has pledged to help build the complex.
But with its $50 million investor gone, so too for now, are dreams of spring training at the complex.

And an even bigger red flag to me is that $20 million of the $23 million is in the form of EB-5 investment {RECORD SCRATCHES}.  The federal program allows foreign investors to earn visas in exchange for loans.

The investment group qualified - but did not secure - the funding. 

As I've covered before, the problem with EB-5 funding is that it is typically short-term financing, it's limited in capacity, and there have been problems relying on the funding mechanism in the past.

Simply put, qualifying for the funding doesn't mean you have 20 foreign investors lined up to write you million-dollar checks each.  The developers admit it could take a year to accomplish this.  I suspect it won't even be that easy.

Oh, but having just $3 million in the bank of the desired $50+ million isn't stopping Sheffield from still talking about luring the Braves to Wesley Chapel, Fla:
Sheffield said he already has had preliminary discussions with the Braves about relocating their Spring Training facility from Disney’s Wide World of Sports to Wiregrass. Talton said if they do land an MLB team, the company would have to buy additional land within Wiregrass Ranch.
The only hope for Pasco taxpayers if the county approves the subsidy, is that officials mandate some sort of clawback provision in case the developers fail to hold up their end of the bargain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sternberg, Silverman React to Friedman's Departure

After learning Andrew Friedman would head from the West Coast of Florida to the West Coast of the continent, Stu Sternberg & Matt Silverman held a conference call.

Sternberg - as quoted by Josh Vitale of the Charlotte Sun - still kind of mopes a bit about the "challenges" he accepted when he purchased the team.  But he struck a fairly up-beat tone by the end of it:
  • “From Day 1 when he came in here, when we all came in here, we knew what challenges we had. Obviously we would have liked to have been further along in that area, but Andrew has lived through that and worked through that as well. But at the end of the day, whatever happens with our attendance and as far as our stadium is concerned, it has an effect on everything that’s done in the organization. We work around it, we work hard and we try to work smart, but when you finish last in attendance or near the bottom consistently, it permeates throughout the organization.”
  • “I don’t expect anyone to be joining him in Los Angeles.”
  • “The level of confidence wasn’t that great to begin with. Year to year, it’s not that great. Given the hand that we’re dealt and how we go at it, it’s half a miracle that we get done what we get done and get to where we get to. Having said that, if Andrew were here and we weren’t having this phone call today and the Rays were just moving along, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that we were going to become a 90-win team next year like we had been for a period of time, either. Now, having said that, you go through the offseason, you get to spring training and you have some expectations. We certainly had some expectations coming into last season where a lot of people on this call said we were as good a team as anyone in baseball. So I never really have a lot of confidence in these things. The games have to be played. But I do have confidence in the process, and I’m very confident in the process we’re going to have in doing all the things necessary to make certain that we put us in the best position to win.”
Vitale also quotes Silverman, who will be taking over his friend's position:
  • “Personally, this is a very difficult day for me. It’s one filled with sadness, as one of my best friends in life has moved away and taken a different job. That’s the primary emotion. I’m pretty sure I’ll feel differently a couple days from now or a couple weeks from now, and I’ll be invigorated by the challenge we face, just like I am every October when we turn the page and look toward the next season. But now, I’m dealing with a lot of sadness, a lot of reflection, as well as a lot of good wishes for Andrew.”
  • “I have a lot of familiarity with the operations of our baseball department, and I’ve worked very closely with almost everyone in a leadership position. In terms of the ins and outs of trades, it’s something that we approach as a group, not just in baseball operations, but also with Stu and with me. Andrew has been the one executing those, but that will be different going forward, obviously. But I’m very familiar with it, and I’ve had a unique vantage point for nine years watching Andrew, observing and pitching in when necessary. I’m prepared for the challenge.”