Jeb Bush chides 'culture' of DC lobbying, but GOP contender has long, myriad ties to industry

Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush complained about "swarms of lobbyists" who hold sway over Washington, but he has accepted campaign donations from lobbyists, turned to some for advice and was once registered as a lobbyist himself.

"We will also challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in our nation's capital," Bush said weeks ago in Miami.

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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 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.

Fund-raising 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.

In deriding the industry on one hand while accepting support on the other, Bush is playing an age-old Washington game. President Barack Obama famously told lobbyists "their days of setting the agenda are over. They have not funded my campaign. They won't work in my White House." But after Obama was elected, thousands of lobbyists deregistered to avoid hiring restrictions in Obama's administration, which granted waivers in some cases to hire lobbyists.

"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, of Common Cause.

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.

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.

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. "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, Codina Bush Group teamed with Benenson Capital, a New York real estate company, to develop a 2.5 million square foot, mixed-use project in Miami.

As Florida governor, Bush added two employees to lobby Capitol Hill in 2000. Several top aides, from his deputy chief of staff to an education adviser to technology expert, became Tallahassee-based lobbyists after working for him.

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.

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

Anyone raising $27,000 or more June 19 at the event at Union Station 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.


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