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UPDATED Dolphins owner Stephen Ross begins campaign vs. Miami lawmakers who opposed stadium deal

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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hinted at political revenge last month against the Florida House of Representatives lawmakers who stood in the way of a proposed renovation to Sun Life Stadium. It didn't take him long to follow through.

Last week, voters in three districts received fliers attacking state Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca, three Miami Republicans who opposed the $350 million stadium redo that would have been partly funded by public dollars. The mailers were sent by Florida Jobs First, a new super PAC created by Ross, Politico reported Monday.

The political action committee will support Republican Gov. Rick Scott's reelection next year and play a "nonpartisan" effort in other Florida races, according to Politico. The governor all but endorsed the Dolphins' proposal.

Ross, a billionaire real-estate developer, is a longtime GOP fundraiser. But he was incensed at some in his own party who blocked the stadium legislation during this year's session, chief among them House Speaker Will Weatherford. The legislation was required to allow Miami-Dade to ask voters whether public money should be spent on the stadium upgrades. 

IMG_0729The night that the session ended without a House vote on the Dolphins bill, Ross blasted Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican. Ross claimed Weatherford had pledged a floor vote. Weatherford denied it and cited a split Miami-Dade delegation on the bill as a principal obstacle in its passage.

"In the future, I will look to play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee and will continue to work to create good jobs in Miami-Dade and throughout South Florida," Ross said in the May 3 statement.

Florida Jobs First filed paperwork with the IRS on June 14 as a political organization. The filing doesn't list Ross, only Miami accountant Ed Torgas, who was also registered as an agent of Friends of Miami First, the political committee that campaigned for the stadium renovation in Miami. As a super PAC, Florida Jobs First can raise unlimited political funds.

The first round of spending targeted Bileca and Trujillo, perhaps the loudest pair of voices among local lawmakers against the stadium plan, and Diaz, the vice-chairman of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. All three face reelection in the fall of 2014. The mailers against the trio are identical, except for the legislators' names and photographs.


Diaz said he was surprised by the attack because he said he tried to keep a low profile on the legislation, given that his law firm, Akerman Senterfitt, has worked for the Dolphins.

"I never took a vote against it, and I tried to stay out of it," he said, adding that he "wasn't excited" about the bill. Of the flier, he added: "Mine just seems to be guilty by association."

"More than 4,000 New Miami jobs...gone. Republican Representative Jose Felix Diaz failed us," reads one side of the piece.

On another: "Republican State Representative Carlos Trujillo recently blocked big tourist events like the Super Bowl from returning to Miami. Over 4,000 good paying jobs that would've been created locally with contractors, suppliers and other vendors -- won't be created at all.

It concludes: "The reality is, Miami-Dade could have had a chance to vote FOR those jobs, but Bileca blocked a referendum so that only his vote counts, not yours."

Ross, who works in New York City but lives in Palm Beach County, could not be immediately reached for comment. A senior official with Florida Jobs First confirmed to the Miami Herald that the only three lawmakers targeted so far have been Bileca, Diaz and Trujillo.

Ross ruffled political feathers when he publicly bashed Weatherford. His latest efforts send a clear message that he has his eye set on other politicians, too, though it's unusual for state House campaigns to begin more than a year before the election -- especially with another legislative session before the election.

"It's reckless," Trujillo said of the fliers. "It's a little bit embarrasing, I think, for them, with their stature in the community, to be attacking individual members."

Based on the partial tally of votes that had been cast early and by mail in the referendum before it was cancelled, he noted, the Dolphins' campaign was foundering.

Diaz, Trujillo and the others who opposed the Dolphins are likely to have deep-pocketed supporters of their own. Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, for example, himself a billionaire and frequent GOP donor, lobbied against the financing for the stadium renovations.

This post has been updated to reflect that Bileca was also targeted by the fliers and to add Diaz's comment.