Stephen Ross Welcome To The Independence Day Festivities
Written by Michael Lewis on July 4, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Political action is the American way. It’s part of what democracy is all about.
If we get angry at some politicians’ pigheaded move to block a law we seek, we exact revenge at the ballot box. We go to the polls aiming to vote them out of office.
Well, that’s exactly what Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is doing.
He’s livid that he couldn’t get the legislature to pass a law that would let the public pay part of the cost to upgrade his privately owned stadium, so he’s planning his own election retribution.
But here the similarity ends. For while we use our own votes to exact revenge, Mr. Ross — who doesn’t live here and so can’t use his own vote — plans to have all the rest of us do his election work for him.
Since he’s a billionaire four or five times over, he’s got plenty of money to spend to put us to work for him at the ballot box, just as he spent $10 million trying to have us go to the polls to get him public money for his stadium roof.
Maybe his new political hit list is a matter of principle with him — the principle of an eye for an eye. But it might not be cost-effective principle.
Between the $10 million he dropped on the aborted election bid, the machine his political action team is engineering to oust recalcitrant legislators and the funds he’ll have to use to lobby when he next goes to Tallahassee seeking stadium upgrade money, he’ll have spent a good chunk of the total he seeks for the stadium and still might not win at the end of the day.
The Dolphins, after all, have lost field position due to Mr. Ross’s recent actions.
They kicked off the stadium funding game as the good guys. They played on their very real ties to Miami and all the jobs they hypothetically would create for us with a stadium.
If we were going to fund any very rich guy’s private game that offers a great long-term cash payback for him but pays us only in good feeling, we thought, it might as well be the Dolphins.
After all, we’d already been patsies for Jeffrey Loria, spending billions to build him a Marlins stadium that he couldn’t fill even if he gave away David Samson bobble-head dolls. That deal is now recognized as the granddaddy of all con jobs.
We’d also built a basketball arena for a billionaire, Micky Arison (actually, we’ve already built two and leveled one in 25 years, but one we paid for in advance and the other we’re still paying for via a subsidy to Mr. Arison that he now wants us to raise to $17 million a year).
But the Dolphins — through then-owner Joe Robbie — actually built their own stadium with their own money. They were wearing the whitest hat in the sports highway robbery league during their legislative campaign last year.
As soon as the campaign failed, however, Mr. Ross threw off his good-guy hat, yanked out his six-guns and took aim at everyone who stood in his way in Tallahassee.
It’s hardly a fair fight. While legislators are using peashooters, Mr. Ross fights with the clout of a billionaire who will spend like crazy to keep from spending totally his own money on a stadium.
Maybe it’s just a billionaire who can buy whatever he wants, so why not a legislature?
If he doesn’t succeed in buying legislators who will vote his way, however, he has painted himself into a corner with the folks who are in office today in terms of changing any minds.
Last week Sen. Rene Garcia, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, fired back, telling Mr. Ross that "your attacks on our caucus members will undoubtedly compromise any opportunity for collaboration on this issue or any other which may arise in future legislative sessions."
Before his letter, Mr. Garcia hadn’t yet made Mr. Ross’s hit list to rub out of legislative action.
On July 4 we celebrate the American way, which includes political action at the ballot box. But we celebrate that action one vote at a time, not thousands of votes bought by a one-man political action committee aimed at enriching that same one man.
We also mark the Declaration of Independence. In the arena of sporting arenas, let us declare the independence of each billionaire team owner to raise as much as he likes for his stadium independently, not by taxation of the public without representation in team income and ownership.