The earliest donors to Republican Jeb Bush’s pre-presidential campaign machine include prominent Florida politicians, the state’s chamber of commerce and even a labor union, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Florida campaign finance filings.
Together, these Sunshine State lawmakers and special interests have donated nearly $250,000 to a controversial super PAC that Bush, a former Florida governor, controlled prior to his formal presidential announcement on Monday.
The pro-Bush Right to Rise super PAC has not yet filed reports with the Federal Election Commission detailing its funders, and it won’t until next month.
The state campaign finance disclosures reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity offer a preview, however limited, of who in a crowded presidential election field has already committed cash to Team Jeb.
Among the most generous Florida-based political groups already backing Bush: The Committee for a Stronger Florida, which is associated with former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.
To date, it has given $75,000 to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC. Weatherford has praised Bush for having “one of the most successful records as governor of anybody I’ve ever seen.”
In February, Weatherford was also among the hosts of a fundraiser for the Right to Rise super PAC staged at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa, Florida, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency.
Weatherford’s Committee for a Stronger Florida, in turn, has collected most of its money since its inception last July from the Florida Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the Treasure Coast Alliance, operated by influential Republican state Sen. Joe Negron — who is vying to be the next Senate president — has donated $51,000 to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, records show.
And the PAC of Florida’s current GOP House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — known as Growing Florida’s Future — has donated $25,000.
Other Florida Republicans whose PACs have donated to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC during the year’s first five months include:
- state Rep. Seth McKeel ($13,000)
- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ($10,000)
- state Sen. Jack Latvala ($5,000)
- state Sen. Wilton Simpson ($5,000)
- state Rep. Dana Young ($5,000)
- state Rep. Brad Drake ($1,000)
- and state Sen. Anitere Flores ($1,000)
Additional donors to the pro-Bush super PAC include political groups run by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Professional Firefighters labor union and the health care industry.
Prior to his presidential announcement, Bush for months traveled the country raising money for his Right to Rise super PAC — which last week was renamed Right to Rise USA — and a companion political action committee also called Right to Rise.
People on both the left and right have criticized Bush for working too closely with these purportedly independent groups, which are now prohibited from coordinating their expenditures with Bush since he officially declared his candidacy. The groups are run by close Bush surrogates who are familiar with his campaign plans and objectives.
The Associated Press recently reported that an internal firewall between the campaign and the super PAC went into effect on June 4.
The Sunlight Foundation has obtained invitations for more than three-dozen fundraisers for the Right to Rise super PAC, which reportedly hopes to raise as much as $100 million by the end of June. Officials with the super PAC have derided that figure as inaccurate but stressed that the group’s first campaign finance filing next month will show “very formidable numbers.”
By law, super PACs are allowed to accept contributions of unlimited size from individuals, companies, labor unions and other groups.
Bush’s official presidential campaign committee, in contrast, is barred from accepting direct contributions from labor unions and companies, while contributions from individuals are capped at $2,700 and donations from PACs are capped at $5,000.
This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of their investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow them on Twitter.