The sports and entertainment mogul who is leading the effort to remake Tampa’s downtown waterfront is fast becoming one of Gov. Rick Scott’s most generous campaign fundraising allies.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik gave $100,000 to a political fundraising committee run by Scott this week, just one month after the Republican governor approved a new state budget that includes a key component of a $1 billion redevelopment plan Vinik is leading in downtown Tampa.
The donation on Wednesday, combined with an identical April donation, makes Vinik the largest individual donor to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work fundraising committee this year. The committee overall has raised more than $3 million since the start of January, according to Florida Division of Election records.
The only other donor to give more to Scott’s political fundraising fund this year than Vinik’s $200,000 has been Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, which donated $252,000 in June.
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A spokesman for Vinik confirmed his donations, but declined further comment.
Scott signed a nearly $79 billion state budget in June that included $17 million to move the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine to downtown Tampa. Vinik wants the medical school to anchor his $1 billion redevelopment in the southern part of downtown near Amalie Arena.
Vinik is donating land at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue for the USF project, which will include a 12-story building to house the College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute. Construction of the building is expected to start by the end of 2016.
Scott’s approval of the project came even as he vetoed millions of dollars in funding for other universities and colleges around the state, including a $3 million slated for Hillsborough Community College, $8 million for the University of Florida, and $15 million for a downtown Orlando project for the University of Central Florida.
Although Scott is barred from running for re-election because of term limits, he continues to actively raise money for his Let’s Get to Work Committee. Scott has publicly refused to say if he is interested in running for another office. But donors to Scott have said they believe the governor is considering a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2018 when Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, would be facing re-election.
Let’s Get to Work has reported raising just over $3 million so far in 2015. It has reported spending about $2.6 million of that, primarily on television commercials promoting his agenda and unspecified political consulting help.
Vinik’s two $100,000 donations put him in rare company. Only eight others have given donations more than $100,000 to Scott this year. Beside Disney, that list of those donors include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a political committee run by the Associated Industries of Florida and Daniel Doyle Jr, CEO of Dex Imaging Inc. in Tampa.