Tampa Tribune reporter William March has this:
Lobbyists are not allowed to finance perks like trips for state officials, but those at the Foundation for Excellence in Education get around that ban by being registered to another foundation run by Jeb Bush.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s nonprofit, education reform foundation is taking heat for using donations from for-profit companies to lobby for state education laws that could benefit those companies.
Among the activities of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education that have come in for criticism: It pays for state officials and legislators to go to conferences where they meet with the company’s donors, including officials of corporations who stand to gain from the policymakers’ decisions.
In recent years, several Florida Department of Education officials and legislators have attended the conferences, and in some cases, their flights, hotel stays, meals and incidentals were paid for with money that came partly from the foundation’s corporate donors.
At these events, the state officials attended meetings, panel discussions, meals and receptions also attended by those donors.
The donors include companies that sell testing services, high-tech learning products and charter school services to the state and to Florida school systems, or that would like to.
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.
These are not new revelations as close observers of Bush’s operation have known that his foundations have been getting away with acting as lobbyists on behalf of the education for-profit industry. But scrutiny of Bush and his top lieutenant, Patricia Levesque, has become more frequent. Neither speaks to the media and predictably, Match was told by Foundation spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof that Bush “wouldn’t be made available to interview for this story.”
A subtle cover-up continues.
March included the investigative report of In the Public Interest in his story. The leftward-leaning watchdog group made a Freedom of Information Act request and received email correspondences between Bush’s Foundation and seven state departments of education. In her e-mail to March, Emhof repeated the union meme in reference to the report.
So did another Foundation publicist, Mike Thomas, in a February piece in the EdFly Blog. But Thomas also said, “we will be happy to address any specific questions about the Foundation e-mails because we always have been very open about what we do.”
Blaming unions is not a response to an inquiry. Shielding Bush and Levesque from questions from a reporter of big state newspaper is hardly being “open about what we do” either.
There’s a better chance that I’ll be selected as Pope this week than there is for my specific questions about the emails being answered. But why the need to hide behind flacks who respond by emails and blog posts if you have nothing to hide? Is it that Bush and Levesque realize just how close to the edge they are operating and that one reporter’s tough question could blow the whole thing up?