Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, has formed a political action committee to help him throw his weight around during the 2014 elections, according to a report from Politico. The reason Ross wants to figure in those elections seems clear: after losing a bitter battle for more than $350 million in public funds to renovate the Dolphins’ stadium on the state House floor this spring, the upcoming elections give Ross a chance to help replace lawmakers who blocked the funding with those who will support it.
Ross has been building toward this moment since the beginning of May, when the Florida legislative session ended without a vote on legislation that would have paved the way for the Dolphins to receive the public funds to renovate SunLife Stadium. That legislation would have triggered a public referendum on the matter but died in the state House when Speaker Will Weatherford (R) declined to bring it up for a vote, a move Ross vowed to not let Weatherford forget. “I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come,” Ross said in a statement then. “I will look to play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee and will continue to work to create good jobs in Miami-Dade and throughout South Florida.”
Afterward, Dolphins chief executive Mike Dee said the franchise may consider leaving South Florida for another city, and the Dolphins upped the stakes by submitting a Super Bowl proposal that suggested the game be played not in SunLife Stadium but on an aircraft carrier.
Instead, it seems the franchise — or at least the franchise’s owner — has decided to try its hand in the electoral system before it follows up on those threats. Weatherford would seem the major target of the PAC, known as Florida Jobs First. The PAC, according to the Miami Herald, has already mailed attack fliers in the districts of three Miami-area Republicans who opposed the legislation.
It’s no wonder that, despite increasing evidence that publicly-financed stadiums turn into bad deals for taxpayers, they continue to happen. It’s already easier for politicians to cast votes in favor of the funding than it is to oppose it, considering that they don’t want to take responsibility for costing fans a team if a pouty owner starts threatening to move. That it’s hard to produce a quick soundbite rebutting the half-baked economic impact studies stadium proponents trot out to show how many jobs and tax dollars the projects will supposedly bring makes them even harder to oppose. Add in that owners like Ross can dump millions of dollars into the electoral system to make life miserable for any politician who opposes his corporate welfare pet project, and casting the vote in the favor of the stadium becomes a no-brainer.
Taxpayers have been successful at stopping stadium projects before, and it’s possible they could continue to thwart Ross. But owners like Ross have numerous options available to them to restock for every stadium battle. And as I wrote when the Arizona Cardinals started directly contributing to political committees, changes in our election financing system are only further minimizing the voice of taxpayers when it comes to whether their money should be spent further enriching billionaires like Stephen Ross.