Florida lawmakers want a judge to force a production company to say how much Armando Christian Pérez, better known as the rapper Pitbull, was paid by the state’s tourism-marketing arm to be a musical ambassador.
Attorneys for the House filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Leon County circuit court seeking a ruling on a claim by PDR Production that the expired contract from the 2015-2016 fiscal year includes trade secrets that have kept terms of the deal out of the public. The lawsuit also asks for immunity from civil action for House members and staff if they potentially disclose terms of the contract.
The House wants to be able to discuss the details of the contract as it deliberates future funding for Visit Florida, the state’s public-private tourism arm that received $78 million this year from the state.
“Taxpayers have a right to hold those who spend their money accountable and that when asked, those responsible for that spending are transparent,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said in a prepared statement.
Corcoran maintained that the lawsuit is not about Pérez or his pay from the state.
“This is about the audacity of government entities who are under the false impression that they are above the law or believe somehow that taxpayer money is a never-ending river of riches they get to play with,” Corcoran said.
Visit Florida has maintained it is prohibited by the contract with PDR from releasing terms of the deal.
Visit Florida President & CEO Will Seccombe did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday night.
Leslie José Zigel, a Miami attorney with the firm Greenspoon Marder who represents PDR Production and Pérez, had no comment Tuesday when asked about the lawsuit.
Pérez, also known as Mr. 305 for the Miami area code, promoted the state by having the agency’s hashtag #LoveFL appear on video screens at concerts and on a music video “Sexy Beaches,” which was filmed in Florida.
The contract with Pérez and other high-profile deals over the past two years have drawn questions about Visit Florida’s spending.
Visit Florida renewed for the current season a contract with London-based Fulham Football Club that costs the state agency $1.25 million.
The soccer team is owned by Shahid “Shad” Khan, a Naples resident who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League and has politically backed Scott. Khan agreed to release the terms of the contract for the current fiscal year after the prior package was shrouded as a “high six-figure deal.”
Visit Florida also maintains a sponsorship of an IMSA racing team that is valued at nearly $2.9 million.
The lawsuit came a day after Corcoran threatened in an interview with Politico to go to court over the Pitbull contract.
The report drew a three-part tweet Tuesday from Gov. Rick Scott that both questioned the non-transparency of the rapper’s contract while retaining support for Visit Florida’s efforts to attract larger numbers of tourists to the state each year.
“This is ridiculous and must be fixed. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent,” Scott tweeted.
“Those who think FL shouldn’t run anymore TV ads/promote tourism in any way to FL don’t have an understanding of how our economy works … and how important tourism is to economic growth and job creation,” Scott continued.