ST. PETERSBURG — In the first month of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Gov. Charlie Crist asked BP for $25 million to pay for an advertising blitz to promote how clean Florida's beaches are.
BP said yes, and the state spent all the money, only to see tourism drop anyway.
Two weeks ago, Crist asked BP for another $50 million. This time, the company said no.
Now Crist is talking about calling in the lawyers — and complaining about how much money the company appears to be spending on television and newspaper ads that plug BP's efforts to cope with the oil spill.
"To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement," the governor, looking peeved, told a roundtable of Tampa Bay area officials Tuesday gathered at SRI St. Petersburg to get an update on matters related to the spill. The state has lined up an expert legal team, he said, "and we're ready if BP doesn't do the right thing."
He stopped short of using the word "lawsuit," instead telling reporters, "We're trying to force them to do the right thing, like they say they're doing in their commercials.''
Ninety percent of Florida's shoreline has seen no oil at all, Crist said. Only the beaches in the Panhandle have been hit by tar balls, tar mats and other thick oil goop. Yet the whole state has been tarred by the perception that the beaches are tainted, he said, hurting Florida's $65 million tourism industry.
That first $25 million BP sent "went quickly," Crist said, but the need to entice tourists to come back continues as the oil keeps spewing from a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico.
In his letter to Crist, Douglas J. Suttles, chief operating officer of BP, wrote that since most of Florida's beaches are clean, "we are exploring other options on how to promote tourism on a more local level to benefit those most directly impacted.'' For example, he cited the company's support for a Jimmy Buffett concert in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Crist compared the long-running spill to both a natural disaster and a Bill Murray movie, calling it "a hurricane that comes ashore every day. It's like Groundhog Day. It's day after day after day."
Yet instead of approving more money for Florida to run ads about its beaches, Crist said, the company is running ads touting its own cleanup and claims efforts.
"It's abundantly clear to me that we need that money to share the story about what's going on on Florida's beaches, and what needs to be shared is that most of our beaches are beautiful," Crist said.
"The notion that they're spending who knows how much money to put a good face on BP — how does that help us here?"
BP says it has spent $3.5 billion on cleaning up the spill. It has also set aside $20 billion in a special fund to compensate victims across the Gulf coast.
Last month, President Obama criticized BP for spending an estimated $50 million on an ad and public relations campaign to repair the company's battered image.
BP spokeswoman Lucia Bustamente would not say how much the company has spent on its own ad campaign, which has included daily full-page ads in the St. Petersburg Times and other newspapers as well as commercials on CNN and other national channels.
"We don't disclose that," she said.
Craig Pittman can be contacted at [email protected]