Big bucks set a foundation for Jeb's vision of future

Published September 17, 2006

Few people have much of a clue about Jeb Bush's intentions for his recently created "Foundation for Florida's Future." He had been expected to use the nonprofit organization to help persuade voters to enshrine school vouchers in the state Constitution. Then the Legislature voted down his efforts to get vouchers on the ballot.

The Foundation for Jeb's Future -- er, Florida's Future - is sitting on nearly $2-million, and the governor is mum on how it will be used. Now he has kicked into gear a sister political committee: the Foundation for Florida's Future Action Fund, which is structured under IRS rules to do more overtly political activities.

Its first donors? The developer of the Villages, a sprawling Central Florida development, kicked in $100,000, and New Yorker Robert W. Johnson IV of the Johnson & Johnson family gave $5,000. Villages developer Gary Morse has been mighty kind to Republicans and especially Bush. He had already ponied up $550,000 for the foundation. Other major donors include Hillsborough GOP power broker Ralph Hughes, whose Cast-Crete Corp. has given $500,000.

The foundation reported spending $40,000 on polling and more than $240,000 on media production by Adam Goodman's Victory Group firm in Tampa. Still, foundation officials aren't talking about their plans for using all the money they're raising for the foundation or its new political committee.

Some politicos think Bush may not actually know yet, though timing is important. After all, it's easier to build up a political war chest as a sitting governor than as a former governor.

GENTLE BOB: Speaking of former governors, ex-Sen. Bob Graham, has been an enthusiastic backer of Democrat Jim Davis for governor, but - unlike Bush's aggressive attacks on Davis - don't look for Graham to play attack dog in helping Davis beat Charlie Crist. Crist ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Graham in 1998, but on a Political Connections' interview airing today on Bay News 9, Graham steered clear of opining on Crist's weaknesses.

"I'm not going to go there," said Graham, who instead said he hoped the campaign would be at a high level, contrasting different platforms, and suggested the primary results showed there is a backlash against negative politics.

Graham said he hopes the campaign leaves voters thinking "you know, we really had some good choices here. I'm proud of the person that was elected even if I didn't vote for them."

Graham also lamented the partisan polarization in American politics today: "It doesn't end at Congress. I think the American public is more divided today than any time that I can remember." Graham pegged districts drawn to protect incumbents as part of the problem. "Also it's more ideological. Instead of asking, 'What is the common sense answer to this problem?' the question is asked, "What does my ideological guru say is the right thing?' "

CRIST THE SAVIOR: President Bush comes to Raymond James stadium Thursday midmorning to raise money for Republican state Rep. Gus Bilirakis' congressional campaign against Democrat Phyllis Busansky in District 9. From there Bush heads to Orlando for a $25,000 per person fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. The White House's official schedule elevated Crist to a loftier status, calling him "Charlie Christ."

TAMPA BAY MATCHUP: The governor's race pits two Tampa Bay candidates against each other, but it appears Charlie Crist has the clear home turf advantage. A Sept. 7-9 Bay News 9 poll of Tampa Bay voters found Crist beating Davis 53 percent to 38 percent in the seven-county political battleground.

Political/Media Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., surveyed 400 Tampa Bay voters who said they would vote in the November election. The margin for error was plus or minus 5 percent.

LEE'S MONEY: Senate President Tom Lee has finally shifted $1-million from his soft-money committee to another committee controlled by his designated successor, Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

The transfer took place Sept. 1, the day after the contribution deadline for the recent Republican primary for chief financial officer in which Lee beat Rep. Randy Johnson. Lee had said he would not use the $1-million to boost his CFO campaign, and he didn't.

But by letting that heaping pile of soft money sit there on the Internet until he defeated Johnson, it appears that Lee wanted to position the money as a way of intimidating Johnson. (Lee had raised the money to protect GOP senators from attacks in the 2004 cycle.) But now the money can be used by Pruitt, who expects to spend it supporting Republican state Senate campaigns.

The most competitive races appear to be in Pinellas-Hillsborough (Republican Kim Berfield and Democrat Charlie Justice) and in the Gainesville area (Republican Steve Oelrich and Democrat Ed Jennings). A million bucks can purchase a lot of 30-second ads in either of those two TV markets.

BACK AT WORK: Rod Smith took a week off before heading back to his old job working at the law firm of Avera & Avera. He showed up at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, to the surprise of his colleagues.

"When you fall off a horse, the first thing you do is get back in the saddle," said the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who is also looking into some consulting and teaching opportunities. "Now I got to find the clients and tell them I'm back. ... Once the voters have given us an unexpected sabbatical, even an unrequested one, I think the best thing to do is go back to what you do best."

BIPARTISAN JOEMENTUM: Independent Senate candidate in Connecticut Joe Lieberman's loss in the Democratic primary is opening up some Republican checkbooks in Florida for him. Uber GOP fundraisers Mel and Betty Sembler are chairing a Lieberman fundraiser Wednesday in St. Petersburg along with Democrats Craig and Jan Sher.

Adam C. Smith, Steve Bousquet and Jennifer Liberto contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news, check out www.blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.