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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Jeb Bush blasts lobbyists but once was one

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.   (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
(AP Photo/John Locher)

Surrounded by supporters as he announced his bid for the presidency, Jeb Bush decried the “swarms of lobbyists” holding sway in Washington and said he was the candidate ready to do something about it.

“We will also challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in our nation’s capital,” Bush said in Miami. “Look, the rest of the country struggles under big government, while comfortable, complacent interest groups in Washington have been thriving on it.”

Four days later, Bush was in Washington for a fundraising luncheon in his honor. His hosts included lobbyists who have made their living working the influence game in D.C., with the majority of big money fundraisers listed on the June 19 invitation current or one-time lobbyists.

For Bush, the connection is not new. Before he was governor, Bush himself was a registered lobbyist on behalf of Codina Bush Group and a country club development in 1991, Miami-Dade records show. A spokeswoman said Bush wasn’t working as a lobbyist then but as a partner in development projects.

As Florida governor, he expanded the state’s D.C. lobbying corps. After leaving office, he was a corporate board member or adviser for companies that spent tens of millions in federal lobbying. And now, as presidential candidate, one vein of support flows from the K Street lobbying corps, and another from lobbyists in his home state of Florida.

Fundraising reports that Bush filed last week with the Federal Election Commission list eight lobbyists as bundlers who brought in $228,400 to his campaign through June 30. That likely represents just a portion of his industry support, as the FEC report — listing $11.4 million in contributions — is a small piece of his larger fundraising machine. Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, has raised another $103 million but not yet disclosed its donors.

On Monday, Bush banged the anti-establishment drum once more in a Florida State University speech entitled, “Taking on Mt. Washington” — including a pitch to extend the ban on former members of Congress from lobbying their colleagues from one to two years up to six.

In deriding the industry on one hand while accepting support on the other, Bush is playing an age-old Washington game.

“The fact is that candidates in both parties get a lot of help from those same lobbyists and the interests they represent,” said Dale Eisman, a spokesman for the public interest group Common Cause. “These folks are not giving money to candidates like they might give money to the Heart Foundation or Cancer Society. They are making an investment in government. And typically when folks make investments, they expect a return.”

As Florida governor, Bush pushed reforms including a lobbyist gift ban and tighter disclosure rules, said spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.

“Governor Bush was able to implement lobbying and special interest reform measures in Florida and is willing to fight for them as president,” Campbell said. “There is no doubt that his continued focus will exert pressure on members of Congress to engage.”

When he released 33 years of tax returns, Bush again targeted D.C. influence-peddling. While noting that he made $7.4 million in 2013, largely from giving speeches and serving as a consultant to corporate America, Bush said he never lobbied the government he served.

“That was a line I drew and it was the right one,” Bush wrote. “And it’s a line more people should be drawing in Washington, D.C., where lobbying has become our nation’s premier growth industry. And this culture of special interest access is a problem I plan to tackle as president.”

While Bush said he has not lobbied government since leaving office, he was a registered lobbyist seven years before being elected governor. In 1991, “John Bush” is listed as a registered lobbyist on two issues before Miami-Dade County government — one on behalf of real estate company Codina Bush Group, where he was a partner, and another for Deering Bay Associates.

In 1990, Bush, his partner Armando Codina and another partner formed Deering Bay Associates to further develop Deering Bay Yacht & Country Club in Coral Gables. “After completely redeveloping the property, in 1991 it was launched with much fanfare under its current name,” the club’s website said.

“Governor Bush was not working as a lobbyist,” Campbell said, but as a partner “and the project required the Commission weigh in on permitting approval issues to move forward with work.”

In the other issue for which he was a registered lobbyist, Codina Bush Group teamed with Benenson Capital, a New York real estate company. Benenson’s website said it formed a joint venture with Codina and Bush to develop a 2.5 million square foot mixed-use project in Miami.

As Florida governor Bush beefed up the state’s own lobbying staff, adding two employees to lobby Capitol Hill on behalf of state taxpayers in 2000. Several of Bush’s top aides, from his deputy chief of staff to an education adviser to technology expert, became Tallahassee-based lobbyists after working for him — and Bush occasionally sought their counsel on state government issues, his emails show.

After leaving the governor’s office in early 2007, Bush served as a board member or adviser to more than a dozen companies. Seven of those companies employed lobbyists who reported $22.5 million in federal lobbying since 2010, according to Senate records.

One was Barclays Capital, where Bush worked through 2014 as a seven-figure adviser. Lobbyists hired by the company and its affiliates reported $12.5 million in federal lobbying since 2010, according to Senate records, though the company said its records show $8.5 million in that time.

Barclays said Bush’s contract precluded him from lobbying government. The company declined to discuss his comments in the campaign, instead issuing a statement describing its lobbying strategy. “Our approach with policy makers and regulators is to be highly collaborative by building good relationships.”

Another regular in lobbying circles is Tenet Healthcare, where Bush served on the board from 2007-2014, earning $2.4 million. Lobbyists for the Dallas-based health care company and its subsidiaries reported $7.5 million in federal lobbying since 2010.

Donn Walker, a Tenet spokesman, said the company had no comment concerning Bush’s campaign comments.

And now, as a candidate, Bush is turning to lobbyists once more.

The luncheon, held June 19 at Columbus Club at Union Station, is a case study.

According to the luncheon invitation, anyone raising $27,000 or more was listed as an event “chairman,” in line for perks including a visit to the Bush family’s Kennebunkport compound. A “co-host” raised $13,500. The majority of the 44 people listed in those two categories actively lobby or have lobbied in the past.

Bush’s comments haven’t seemed to ruffle the industry.

“I agree with what he’s saying,” said event chairman Richard “Rick” Hohlt, a Washington lobbyist who has represented tobacco and oil and gas companies, and who once worked for then-Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.

“I don’t see any conflict at all in what he’s trying to do,” said Hohlt, who views this as the deepest Republican field in years and has supported other GOP contenders beyond Bush. “Maybe it helps weed out the people who are the problem.”

Others listed on the invitation lobby for a Who’s Who of corporate America, including Apple Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Dow Chemical Co.

One is Kimberley Fritts, chief executive of the Podesta Group, which cites its reputation as “a king of K Street” and reported $25.1 million in 2014 lobbying, according to Its client list exceeded 125, including BP, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Google, Northrop Grumman, Bechtel Group and Duke Energy. The firm also performed work for the Sunshine in Government Initiative, of which The Associated Press is a member. And, Podesta lobbied for Tenet, where Bush served on the board. Fritts, once deputy campaign manager for Bush in Florida, did not respond to two interview requests from AP.

Another event chairman is David Carmen, founder of D.C.’s Carmen Group, which earns millions representing clients from local governments to state universities to hospitals. Carmen declined to discuss Bush’s criticism of lobbying, but said he views the Florida Republican as “great for the future of our country — particularly for those who have most suffered from its present-day course.”


Associated Press staff writers Julie Bykowicz and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.


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