ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- Few local businessmen enjoyed Florida's legislative session as much as Bill Edwards, which raises eyebrows about a $50,000 contribution he made to the political action committee of Senator Jack Latvala (R, Seminole).
Edwards, a mortgage tycoon and owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club, successfully lobbied the legislature and governor for a half-million dollar improvement to the Mahaffey Theater as well as a stadium subsidy bill that -- for the first time -- makes the Rowdies eligible for tens of millions of tax dollars.
Latvala was key in re-writing the stadium bill, which was originally designed to subsidize facilities for the "Big Four" sports leagues, considered tourist draws. But this year, in addition to adding NASCAR and MLS to the leagues eligible, Latvala made sure the Rowdies' North American Soccer League (NASL) was added as well.
Even though the NASL averages around 4,000 fans per game (the Rowdies have performed slightly above average), they now stand to qualify for $3 million a year in state tax dollars for new stadium construction. Edwards has indicated he envisions a taxpayer-subsidized soccer stadium on St. Pete's waterfront.
The bill passed on May 2, the last day of the session. On June 17, Edwards contributed $50,000 to Latvala's Florida Leadership Fund, a political action committee (PAC) that allows him to spend contributions almost any way he wants. The senator is seeking to become the president of the chamber, which generally involves out-raising his peers as a sign of dominance.
"This is America. Jack wants to be the president of the Senate and I want him to be president too, so I support him," Edwards said, indicating there was nothing illegal about making the PAC contributions.
Edwards, who also contributed $1 million to Governor Rick Scott's re-election campaign, is not alone in his support of Latvala. Dozens of people and businesses have been pouring money into Latvala's coffers since the end of the session two months ago.
Among them: the Tampa Bay Rays ($15,000), the Jacksonville Jaguars ($5,000), Charter Schools USA ($5,000), and Isle of Capri Casinos ($2,500).
Tuesday, Edwards again mentioned his dream of 18,000-20,000 fans attending Rowdies games in St. Petersburg, but said he wasn't sure about a timeline.
"It's going to depend on the fan base. If the fans come, we'll keep building."