Florida House speaker threatens lawsuit if Visit Tampa Bay fails to disclose finances

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran

TAMPA (WFLA) — Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran tells 8 On Your Side if Visit Tampa Bay and other private tourism promoters don’t bow to his demands for full financial disclosure, he’ll sue them in court just like he did to pop star Pitbull.

“I think it’s pretty clear having done it before with Pitbull that we’re right and they should just comply,” Corcoran said.

Pitbull secretly negotiated a $1 million tourism promotion contract with Visit Florida that only came to light after Corocran sued for disclosure.That contract nearly spelled the end to Visit Florida’s funding as an example of what Corcoran considers wasteful spending of public money.

On Friday, Corcoran sent harsh demand letters to a dozen organizations across Florida, like Visit Tampa Bay, that collectively spend nearly a billion dollars in bed taxes to promote tourism. Corcoran chided those private organizations for severing ties with the state-sponsored Visit Florida organization in order to duck disclosure of how they spend a fortune in public money.

“The revocation of partnership agreements with Visit Florida in no way protects your organization from legislative inquiry, accountability or transparency,” he wrote.

Late last year, Visit Tampa Bay agreed to give Corcoran volumes of documents related to its spending when he became incensed over an 8 On Your Side investigation that revealed among other things that Visit Tampa Bay’s Executive Director Santiago Corrada was earning $339,000 a year, funded mostly with bed tax dollars.

On Tuesday, Corcoran doubled down on his threat to take legal action if Visit Tampa Bay and other private tourism promoters ignore his disclosure demands.

“This is taxpayer money. If you spend one penny of taxpayer money, then our records are open and are inspectable by the entire public that’s our position that’s what the law says and we’ll continue to enforce that,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran claims some of the organizations, such as the one that promotes tourism in the Florida Keys, have already agreed since Friday to his call for transparency. But so far Corcoran says he has not heard from Visit Tampa Bay and some of the other private tourism promotion organizations that run on bed tax money.

“If we don’t hear from them in the next week or two we’ll reach out to them and say what’s your response. If they don’t have a response then obviously we’ll take the next steps,” Corcoran told 8 On Your Side.

Visit Tampa Bay executives insist they’ve been too busy with the Governor’s Tourism Conference in Miami to manage a reply to Corcoran or to us.

“We have to meet with our board before we make any response,” Visit Tampa Bay Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Harrison wrote Tuesday in an email to 8 On Your Side. “Therefore no response has been given.”

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