Jeb Bush, eager to position himself as a reform-minded presidential candidate, delivered an interesting speech in his home state of Florida this week on his intention to clean up Washington, D.C. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Vowing to rattle the political establishment in Washington, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Monday said members of Congress should disclose their meetings with lobbyists and refrain from lobbying former colleagues for six years after leaving office. […]“We need a president willing to challenge the whole culture in our nation’s capital,” Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida, said in Tallahassee, the state capital.
At face value, there’s nothing especially wrong with any of this. It’s a little odd to hear the message coming from someone whose family played such a dominant role in the nation’s capital for so long, and who’s spent his life benefiting from his Beltway connections, but a six-year ban would be pretty ambitious and there’s certainly nothing wrong with Bush making the issue an important part of his platform.
But some of the relevant details make the former governor an imperfect messenger. Politico’s Marc Caputo, for example, reported that the forum at which Bush spoke was apparently organized by the Chamber of Commerce. “So Jeb gave a speech about lobbyist reforms to a room of lobbyists at a college run by a former lobbyist at a forum organized by lobbyists who then denied they organized it,” Caputo wrote. [Update: my friends at the International Business Times first reported on this on Tuesday.]
There’s also the inconvenient fact that Bush, despite his concerns about lobbyists’ influence, has received generous financial support from lobbyists: “The campaign disclosed last week that eight lobbyists bundled a total of $228,400 of the $11.4 million raised in the first 15 days of Mr. Bush’s campaign – more money from the industry than any other Republican candidate.”
But perhaps most problematic of all is the fact that Jeb Bush was actually himself a registered lobbyist. The Associated Press reported this morning:
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.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.
It’s unclear just how much lobbying he actually did – a Bush campaign spokesperson said he was merely a partner in development projects – but if he’s elected, it would be the first time a former registered lobbyist ever became president of the United States.
Making matters slightly worse, Bush was Florida’s Secretary of Commerce from 1987 to 1988, before becoming a registered lobbyist in 1991.
In other words, Jeb Bush wants to create a six-year ban on former public officials transitioning to the lobbying industry, despite the fact that he personally made the same transition in half the time.
The GOP candidate’s rivals haven’t made much of an effort to pursue this line of criticism, but if they do, Bush may quickly run into a “do as I say, not as I do” problem.