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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Bay Rays make new donations to key state legislator

The Tampa Bay Rays still don’t know where or when they would construct a new stadium, but that is not stopping them from building up a political relationship with a key state lawmaker that could pay dividends when they do.

For the first time this year, and the second time since 2014, Tampa Bay Rays Baseball, Ltd, made a donation to a political committee run by influential state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. State campaign finance records show the Rays gave $5,000 in the closing days of April to a political committee Latvala runs called the Florida Leadership Committee. Two years ago, the Rays gave Latvala $15,000 for the same committee. Latvala will be the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee next year.

Latvala said the April 29 donation is “fairly routine and benign” and not really a signal of anything in the works in Tallahassee that would affect the Rays.

The Rays are far from the biggest donor to Latvala. His committee collected more than $150,000 just in April, according to new campaign finance documents. The biggest donation came from the William L. Edwards Revocable Trust, which gave $25,000 on the same day that the Rays made their donation. Bill Edwards is the chairman and CEO of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team. 

A bill Latvala helped pass two years ago created a structure for sports teams to prove their economic benefits in order to qualify for state funding — up to $3 million a year for 30 years. But since then, no funding has been dedicated for any stadiums, despite requests from the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Daytona International Speedway for a share of state funding. The state Legislature, particularly the House, has been reluctant to approve funding for any sports stadiums amid growing opposition of using public money to fund professional sports facilities. 

“It’s kind of out of my hands,” Latvala said.

The April 29 check is the only campaign donation that Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Ltd made directly to any state legislators or their political committees this year.

Professional sports teams in Florida — particularly those seeking stadium building help — are frequent donors to political campaigns. The Miami Dolphins last year, donated more than $13,000 to political committees, including $5,000 each to committees controlled by incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano. Later in 2015, the Dolphins filed an application for $200 million in funding for renovations to Sun Life Stadium.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have donated more than $50,000 over the last four years to political committees in Florida, including more than $20,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. The Jaguars are seeking $1 million a year in state tax dollars for stadium improvements.

[Last modified: Monday, May 9, 2016 2:37pm]

    

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