Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Money That Flows From Pro Teams to Lawmakers is Typically Returned Through Tax Handouts

My latest for WTSP looks at the lawmakers expected to issue new tax incentives to pro sports teams, despite criticism of the incentives from the state's official economists.  I've spent the last week reporting on the questionable stadium spending and dubious claims by those looking for it.

Tuesday - Group want to end tax help for pro stadiums
Monday - Florida's "new" stadium subsidy process is just like the old one...with more dough
Sunday - Teams renovate stadiums anyway, even when they fail to get state tax dollars
Last Week - Gov. Scott dodges questions about stadium subsidies

Today, I look at the campaign spending from the sports organizations that benefited from last year's stadium bill (SB 1216), and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in influential contributions they've made recently to the state's most powerful politicians.

One of the biggest recipients of sports contributions is State Sen. Jack Latvala, who wrote last year's stadium bill that increases the amount of money available to professional stadium projects. 10 Investigates reported in May how Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards gave $100,000 to Latvala's political action committee, the Florida Leadership Fund, following passage of SB 1216. The law made the Rowdies -- along with MLS soccer teams and NASCAR facilities -- eligible for state stadium subsidies for the first time.

But after he got his bill passed, Latvala also collected contributions from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Daytona-based International Speedway Corporation (ISC). All three organizations stood to benefit from the law's passage, as 2015 subsidy applicants are now close to collecting a total of $210 million in tax commitments over the next 30 years. The new MLS team in Orlando is also campaigning for a share of the money.

In addition to Edwards' money, Latvala's PAC also received $20,000 from the Dolphins, $5,000 from the Jaguars, and $5,000 from ISC. The Tampa Bay Rays haven't yet applied for new state funds, but they contributed to $15,000 to the PAC.

In the last three years, the Jaguars also gave more than $20,000 to the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), which can then spend the money on any candidates it chooses with very limited disclosures.

The Dolphins gave more than $328,000 to state-level candidates and committees in the last three years, including $50,000 each to the Florida Democratic Party (FDP).

Most of the International Speedway Corporation's $224,112 in contributions since 2012 went to the RPOF. There were also numerous contributions from the company's subsidiaries and executives, including CEO Lesa France Kennedy, who gave $47,500 to the RPOF and $25,000 to Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" committee over the past three years.

The Orlando City Lions -- and co-owner Phil Rawlins -- have also contributed to Republican leaders. And the Rowdies' Edwards contributed more than $300,000 to Scott and the RPOF in addition to his contributions to Latvala's committee.

DONATION LOOKUP: Political donations from local teams, athletes, owners

Lobbying expenditures have also mounted for the teams seeking state subsidies, led by the International Speedway Corporation, which has spent approximately $487,000 lobbying the legislature the last three years. According to state filings, which give ranges on executive lobbying, ISC spent between $327,000 and $476,000 more lobbying the executive branch since 2012.

Other lobbying expenditures since 2012 include: the Jaguars (between $100,000 and $200,000); Orlando City Soccer (between $235,000 and $345,000); and the Miami Dolphins (between $170,000 and $240,000). All figures are according to estimates found in state filings.

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