Now that 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.
Guest Editorial by Northwest Florida Daily’s sister paper the Daytona Beach News-Journal
December 22, 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 that treat such information as 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.
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.
That sounds like phony math. How can you measure the economic impact of a rapper’s music video and hashtag tweets with such precision?
But don’t kid yourself, this isn’t 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.
In the wake of the Pitbull fiasco, Scott says he wants to make Visit Florida’s operations and expenditures more transparent. But the same principle should apply to more government contracting, particularly in the area of public-private economic development deals where details of economic incentive packages and who is receiving the benefits are often withheld from the public.
Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent and to decide for themselves whether they’re getting a good return on their investment.