“It was not a high-priority item for me or my administration, and if they’re making that accusation, they’re dead wrong,” Crist said.
Ambler, who helped steer the money to Digital Domain, received $2,000 in campaign contributions in 2009 from Digital Domain CEO John Textor, his wife and Textor-affiliated companies. Textor also donated $5,000 in 2009 to the Republican Party of Florida.
Ambler’s son, Jason, worked for Digital Domain as recently as this week, according to post’s on Jason’s Twitter account, and Digital Domain appointed Ambler himself to the company’s board, paying him $20,000. Ambler and representatives from Digital Domain did not return a call seeking comment.
More broadly, the episode also raises questions about the state’s “Quick Action Closing Fund,” Enterprise Florida’s growing practice of handing out cash up front to companies who make similar promises to create jobs.
The funding mechanism — whereby businesses get taxpayer money as an enticement to come to Florida — has boomed in recent years. Scott’s administration has significantly ramped up the use of the fund, approving hundreds of millions in up front cash grants.
Enterprise Florida, which leads the effort, has also come under scrutiny for dashing out incentive money to companies that are represented on its board of directors. Board members are scheduled to meet Thursday at the Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach
At least five of the companies that sit on Enterprise Florida’s board were awarded a total of $22,449,500 in business incentives in the last year, said Dan Krassner, of Integrity Florida, referencing state documents.
Swoope has defended the organization’s use of incentives money, saying there was no collusion between the board and the Department of Economic Opportunity, which has the final say over whether incentives are approved or denied.
Even companies that have gone through the traditional review process have still gone bankrupt, failing to create promised jobs after receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
Last summer, the Tampa Bay Times reported, the state set aside $2.65 million for Tampa tech company Savtira Corp. to create 265 jobs in Hillsborough County, a project that went bankrupt.
Around the same time, Redpine Healthcare Technologies received $750,000 in state and local cash incentives after it promised to move its headquarters from Spokane, Wash. to Panama City. Within months of receiving the upfront cash and millions of dollars in other incentives, Redpine closed up shop.
Digital Domain’s downfall also impacts Florida State University’s film school, which has a $2 million partnership with the company. Frank Patterson, dean of FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts, said, if the need arises, the school is poised to preserve its degree programs by hiring laid off Digital Domain faculty.
“Right now we’re in wait and see mode,” he said. “But we’re prepared for the worst.”