Following Criticism, Jeb Bush’s Lobbyist Withdraws State Registration

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush discussed immigration policy, education, the economy, and why he chose not to run for president in 2012 during a speech at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse September 19, 2012, as part of Hofstra University’s Debate 2012 fall semester Signature Speaker Series.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, under fire for reversing his support for a path to citizenship in immigration reform, is also facing criticism for the actions of his Tallahassee lobbyist. (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University’s Debate 2012 Signature Speaker Series.)

By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Patricia Levesque. (Photo courtesy of LeRoy Collins Institute.)

Meridian Strategies, the lobbying firm that doubles as the management group for Jeb Bush’s controversial education reform nonprofits, on Monday pulled its lobbying registration following a Sunday news story questioning its role in the Bush operations.

Meridian, owned by Patricia Levesque, was paid $795,000 between 2009 and 2011 for “consulting and management services,” according to tax forms filed by the nonprofits, the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Sunday’s story in the Tampa Tribune was a recap of issues that have cropped up since late last year around the Bush nonprofits and its courting — and travel funding — of potentially influential state officials at public conferences and events.

From the story:

Normally, it’s illegal for lobbyists or lobbying organizations to provide benefits such as free trips to Florida legislators or top executive branch officials.

But the Foundation for Excellence in Education escapes that prohibition because lobbyists on its staff are registered to another, closely related Bush foundation – even though the two share key staff members and even their Tallahassee address.

Meridian listed the Foundation for Florida’s Future, an operation Bush founded in 1994, shortly after his losing bid for the governor’s office, as one of Meridian’s two lobbying clients for 2013 before withdrawing.

Meridian Strategies shares a PO box with the two Bush nonprofits, and since 2009 has registered its lobbying status to the PO box as well.

A former partner at the company, former Bush deputy chief of staff Deirdre Finn, left Meridian in December 2011 to form Finn Strategies.

Also from the story:

A lobbyist, in state law, is someone employed solely or mainly to influence the government.

The foundation’s executive director, Patricia Levesque, is a registered lobbyist as well as a long-time Bush adviser. Her lobbying clients have included both nonprofit and for-profit education companies such as the College Board and IQity.

But she isn’t registered as a lobbyist for the Foundation for Excellence in Education – it has no lobbyist registered in its own name.

Instead, Levesque represents Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, a group he founded shortly after his first, unsuccessful run for governor in 1994. Levesque is also executive director of Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Levesque did not return a call and an email.

Bush’s group espouses education reform in Florida and other states, in some cases involving private companies that stand to  benefit financially from those reform policies.

These companies are also donors to the Bush nonprofits, in some cases.

In the Public Interest, a liberal activist group, last month released thousands of emails, some of them to or from Levesque, that show a link between the policies and funders of corporate funders.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education did not dispute the connections in a responsive post on its Web site, citing instead the pro-union agenda of In the Public Interest and restating its backing of charter schools and other alternatives.

UPDATE: Levesque responded to our morning email with a written response:

At our annual board meeting last November the board expressed an interest in having me work full-time as an employee of the foundation because of our growing work on education reform in Florida and across the country.

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