The Jeb Story is a story told by lobbyists—literally.
Right to Rise, the super PAC backing Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, rolled out a 15-minute video this week touting Bush’s record as governor in Florida, as well as his personal background. The video features eight documentary-style sit-down interviews with Bush supporters including his wife, Columba. But of the seven other backers, four are current or former lobbyists.
Of course, there’s nothing per se wrong with being a lobbyist or with being liked by them. But the fact that half of the video’s Bush boosters have worked as influence-peddlers may be unhelpful in a campaign characterized by anti-insider sentiment.
The first lobbyist to appear is Allison DeFoor. The ad identified him as “Former Everglades czar,” which is correct; DeFoor worked in Bush’s gubernatorial administration with a focus on marsh restoration. What the ad didn’t say is that DeFoor is currently registered as a Florida lobbyist for The Children’s Campaign, the city of Key Colony Beach, Communications International Inc., and the Ocean Reef Community Association.
Next up is Paul Hamilton, identified in the video as a former lobbyist for Florida Power & Light. The company that owns Florida Power & Light, NextEra Energy Inc., has given more than $1 million to Right to Rise, as the Associated Press noted. In 2009, Bush wrote an op-ed for a Tallahassee paper backing the utility company’s push for the state government to let it charge Floridians higher rates for electricity.
Also interesting: NextEra Energy’s CEO, Armando Oliviera, who is not in the video, invested in an offshore private equity fund that Bush helped set up, according to Politico. Politico noted that Bush and his investors—Oliviera included—avoided U.S. taxes and regulations by incorporating the fund in the United Kingdom instead of in this country. Bush didn’t note that fact in his op-ed calling for a rate hike. NextEra Energy is the third-most generous corporate backer of Right to Rise, according to disclosures.
The third lobbyist to take a star turn in Right to Rise’s ad is Sam Ard, of Ard, Shirley & Rudolph. Among his clients are Hialeah Inc., which operates horse racetracks, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.
And, finally, there’s Bob Burleson of the Florida Transportation Builders Association. A chyron on the video notes that he’s with the group, but doesn’t note his job: lobbying. Burleson is a registered lobbyist, and the association is his only listed client. He was featured on the site FourthFloorFiles, which highlights the Sunshine State’s most prominent lobbyists.
“Every politician comes in talking about making change, and generally there’s not much change,” Burleson said in the Right to Rise video. “But Gov. Bush made a lot of changes.”
One of those changes, which the video immediately highlighted, was Bush’s willingness to veto the state legislature’s favorite spending projects. And one of those vetoes—of high-speed rail funding—was a big win for Burleson’s transportation group.
The association gave generously to efforts that aimed to stop the state from building high-speed rail, and he explained his industry’s opposition to a rail project by saying it would take up funds that could otherwise have been spent on highways.
“You’ve got to make choices where you spend the money,” Burleson said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “If we take the money for high-speed rail, you’d take money away from congestion-relief projects.”
As governor, Bush vetoed $7 million in funding that the legislature’s Republicans allocated for a high-speed rail project and campaigned successfully for a referendum to end the project, as the Los Angeles Times noted. And just like that, Florida high-speed rail got stopped in its tracks.
Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for Right to Rise, said he doesn’t think voters will be perturbed by the fact that half of the video’s stars are current or former lobbyists.
“A key part of Jeb’s story is how he shook up the entrenched interests, ended the gravy train for lobbyists in Tallahassee, and how he now plans to do the same in Washington,” Lindsay said. “We assume voters are easily sophisticated enough to understand that these people were eyewitnesses to Jeb’s changing of the old order.”
Maybe! But in a primary where Donald Trump’s call for a big beautiful wall with a big beautiful door has made him the frontrunner, betting on voter sophistication may be a tad risky.