Editorial: Pitbull fiasco and transparency

Now that Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has brought Miami-based rapper Pitbull to heel, it’s time for the Florida Legislature to put a tighter leash on how state agencies spend taxpayer dollars.

by Ocala Star Banner’s Editorial Team

December 21, 2016

Last year Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency that received $78 million in taxpayer funding this fiscal year, contracted with Pitbull to promote Florida beaches and hotels. However, both the agency and the rapper’s production company refused to reveal how much Pitbull was being paid for his services, citing terms of the deal a “trade secret” not subject to public disclosure.

Corcoran rightfully rejected that flimsy excuse and last Tuesday filed a public records lawsuit on behalf of the House to force Pitbull’s people to drop the secrecy. Two days later, Pitbull relented and released via Twitter the 11-page contract for everyone to see.

It was a pretty sweet deal for the singer. He was paid a cool $1 million, which included $250,000 for a “talent fee” and use of his name and likeness; another $250,000 after he completed a music video that included footage of Florida beaches, and use of a social media hashtag promoting Florida; $100,000 for filming a 10-to-15-second introduction as part of a “Conquering Florida” video series Visit Florida uses to promote the state; another $100,000 for six “Florida Pit Package” sweepstakes that would include travel packages to Florida; and $300,000 to promote Florida on social media platforms at least twice a month with the hashtag #loveFL.

That was proprietary information deserving of secrecy?

Visit Florida officials acknowledged it was a mistake to negotiate a confidentiality clause in the contract, and the agency’s three top executives were fired or resigned in the wake of the controversy. Nevertheless, they defended the million-dollar expenditure. CEO Will Seccombe, who resigned Friday, claimed the state got $9 in return for every dollar it spent.

Really? How can you measure the economic impact of a rapper’s music video and hashtag tweets with such precision? Sure, Pitbull has more than 23 million followers on Twitter; that million dollars buys a lot of eyeballs. But how do you quantify a 9-to-1 return on investment in this case. We suggest you can’t.

You have to wonder how much the non-disclosure on this deal and others affects Visit Florida’s spending decisions. With more transparency comes more accountability, and perhaps a closer eye on the taxpayers’ bottom line.

That’s not limited to Visit Florida. Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, points out that earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott signed into law two bills passed by the Legislature that expanded the definition of trade secrets to allow more government agencies to shield commercial and financial information from the public. She said that had the Pitbull contract been signed after the law went into effect Oct. 1 it might have been covered by the new standards. [READ MORE]

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