By Trevor Aaronson
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
During his second term as Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush allowed lobbyists with his former chief of staff’s firm, Southern Strategies Group, to help set his legislative agenda and arrange meetings with corporate clients. One of the lobbyists even helped write two speeches.
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Having officially announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, Bush is now the subject of renewed media scrutiny.
Bush’s cozy relationship with lobbyists during his tenure in Tallahassee was reported June 23 by Andrew Perez, David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham-Cook of International Business Times. Perez and Sirota also reported that Bush ordered Florida to purchase land from a timber company that would later pay the governor $1 million.
The reporting by International Business Times, which relied on Bush’s emails as governor, was made possible in part by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. In late December 2014, after Bush announced his intention to explore a run for the White House, FCIR compiled and made searchable Bush’s hundreds of thousands of emails during his eight years as governor. FCIR encouraged reporters to use the email search tool to inform their journalism.
Since then, news media nationwide have searched through Bush’s emails for story leads and to answer questions about a man who may well become the next president of the United States. Most news organizations have been generous and credited FCIR. A few others (you know who you are) reported stories based almost entirely on the emails but did not provide credit.
Among the reporting to result from FCIR’s project to make Jeb Bush’s email searchable:
- Mother Jones magazine pointed out that key episodes during Bush’s governorship, including the 2000 vote recount that resulted in his brother’s election as president, are underrepresented in the emails. If Bush and top aides were trading messages about what to do during the election debacle, those messages aren’t in the email archive, MoJo noted.
- The Hill found emails in which Bush responded to citizens facing immigration problems as they tried to stay in the country or reunite with family members. Bush’s emails “reveal the complexity of the immigration debate,” The Hill reported.
- Fox News Latino also sifted through Bush’s emails for insight into his views on immigration. The news channel noted that when a pregnant Florida woman who was married to a Mexican citizen described the difficulty her husband was having in his attempt to emigrate to the United States, Bush replied to her: “I will do my best to try to help.”
- The Miami Herald reported that during the Elián González controversy the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was sending regular updates about the situation to Bush. “One was so detailed that it noted what a host had said on a Spanish-language AM radio station,” the Herald reported. In a separate story about the Bush family’s love of golf, the Miami newspaper also pointed out that the emails revealed Bush’s gentler side. When Matthew Ross, an autistic sixth-grader from Pasco County who had met the governor during a campaign rally, emailed Bush to invite him to play golf, Bush forwarded the email to his assistant. “I would like to do this,” Bush wrote.
- The Florida Keys Keynoter uncovered an email from 2003 in which Bush said he supported the invasion of Iraq. When a Florida resident complained in en email to the governor about the Key West City Commission’s passage of a resolution opposing the invasion, Bush wrote: “I love Key West but the commissions [sic] actions is [sic] weak and history will show that it was just plain wrong.”
- The Daily Beast discovered emails that showed Bush and his aides “were acutely aware of internal inconsistencies in the state’s policy on same-sex adoption and foster families.” A top advisor to the governor pointed out that Florida law allowed gay couples to become foster parents but not adoptive ones. “I didn’t think we allowed gay couples to be foster parents,” Bush wrote in an email, confused. “Or maybe it is adoption.”
And there’s a lot more time for news media to search through Jeb Bush’s hundreds of thousands of pages of email. The Iowa caucuses are still more than six months away.