TALLAHASSEE - House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Tuesday asked a Leon County judge to clear the way for release of details about a promotional contract a state tourism agency has with pop rapper Pitbull.
At Corcoran's direction, lawyers for the Florida House of Representatives argued that claims by a lawyer representing Pitbull are invalid that require the state to keep details of the contract private because of trade secret concerns. PDR Productions, Pitbull’s management company, made the claim in fighting release of the details.
“The amount of compensation, the deliverables, and the timetable set out in the contract between VISIT FLORIDA and PDR do not meet any definition of ‘trade secret’ under Florida law,” House lawyers wrote. “They are not confidential and can be disclosed without there being a basis for civil liability, despite PDR’s claim to the contrary.”
But VISIT FLORIDA lawyer Amy Schrader said even if the court agrees parts of the contract are not trade secrets, other exemptions in Florida law would consider some details — like how much the agency spent — as confidential.
FROM 2015: 10Investigates: Why Florida's paying Pitbull; but keeping sum secret
"Therefore, even should a court determine that the redacted portions of the contract are not 'trade secrets,' the exemptions for 'business transactions' and 'financial and proprietary information' would appear to apply," Schrader wrote in a letter responding to a public records request.
Schrader also wrote anyone who discloses the redacted information "may be guilty of a third-degree felony." But the statute Schrader cited only refers to that penalty for release of trade secret information.\
The version of the contract released by VISIT FLORIDA is an 11-page document with large black boxes covering much of each page. The only content not redacted was an introduction to the contract and the scope of work.
The House complaint was the first step any state entity has taken to identify the terms of Pitbull's contract.
“This is ridiculous and must be fixed,” Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Tuesday in reaction to a POLITICO Florida story. “Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent.”
This is ridiculous and must be fixed. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent. https://t.co/3qHXbfrIrP (1/3)— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) December 13, 2016
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 (2/3)— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) December 13, 2016
...and how important tourism is to economic growth and job creation. (3/3)— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) December 13, 2016
In subsequent tweets, Scott said people who believe the state should not run television advertisements or promote tourism "don't have any understanding of how our economy works and how important tourism is to economic growth and job creation."
Scott’s office declined to comment after his tweet or to answer how the governor will respond to the debate over the contract. Scott was traveling Tuesday to Washington, D.C., to meet with Department of Health and Human Services secretary appointee Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
For an unknown amount of cash, Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Perez, allowed VISIT FLORIDA to use his 2014 song “Sexy Beaches” in a promotional video. VISIT FLORIDA CEO William Seccombe signed the contract Aug. 3, 2015.
Efforts to reach Seccombe on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The Florida House already has an unredacted copy of the contract, but Corcoran worried the wide-reaching trade secret claim would make House members the target of a lawsuit from Pitbull’s management company if they publicly disclose it.
"The House Appropriations Committee is investigating VISIT FLORIDA'S use of public funds, including the funds used to pay PDR under the contract," the House complaint states. "PDR has made an overly broad, unjustified trade secret confidentiality claim regarding the material terms of the contract, including the amount of public funds spent under the contract. PDR in turn is impeding the House’s legislative prerogative to publicly investigate the use of taxpayer dollars and interfering with the transparency of that process."
VISIT FLORIDA receives a mix of taxpayer and private dollars to promote state tourism. This year, the Legislature gave the agency $76 million from the state’s $82 billion budget. Corcoran promised VISIT Florida’s budget will be scrutinized before it receives any more taxpayer dollars.
The contract with Pitbull lapsed June 30, but the fight for the details began shortly after negotiations started in July 2015. A lawyer for Pitbull wrote in a September 2015 letter that he believe the terms of the contract should remain secret due to a “trade secret” clause within the document.
“Our position is clear — VISIT FLORIDA is under no duty to disclose and, quite frankly, is contractually obligated not to disclose, any of our confidential information,” wrote Leslie Jose Zigel, a lawyer who represents Pitbull’s management company, PDR Productions.
Schrader initially denied release of the contract in a Nov. 5 letter to the Orlando Sentinel, arguing the agency’s direct-support role to Enterprise Florida leaves it under unique status exempt from public records law.
“VISIT FLORIDA holds a unique status under Florida law, including being afforded specialized exemptions from Florida’s public records laws consistent with its public purpose of promoting tourism and economic development in Florida,” Schrader wrote.
However, the law that created Enterprise Florida includes specific instructions requiring it to comply with the public records statute like any state agency. Schrader then noted that Pitbull's trade secret claim was within the boundaries of other state law.
"Pitbull has expressly asserted that information relating to compensation under his contract with VISIT FLORIDA is a trade secret and confidential; and that maintaining this information as confidential was essential to his agreement to provide services," Schrader wrote.
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