Jeb Bush's emails detail communications with top donors

In this May 26, 2006, file photo, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to a mostly Republican audience at the 58th Annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Hilton Miami Airport Hotel in Miami. (AP Photos/Mitchell Zachs)
In this May 26, 2006, file photo, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to a mostly Republican audience at the 58th Annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Hilton Miami Airport Hotel in Miami. (AP Photos/Mitchell Zachs)
Published March 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — Among the many thousands of emails Jeb Bush received as Florida governor are a string of notes from campaign donors asking for favors and making suggestions.

Invariably, Bush responded quickly. Sometimes, he appointed a person a donor had recommended for a position. Other times, he rejected advice about a piece of legislation.

It's an insight into Bush's work as governor that's possible only because his emails are open for review, something not yet available for those sent and received by Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Like Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bush used a personal email address and private server. But, positioning himself as a transparent candidate if he runs for the Republican nomination, he has posted online more than 275,000 emails from his two terms in office.

A review by the Associated Press of Bush's emails found that prominent donors to Bush and his family regularly urged him to appoint certain candidates for judgeships, public boards and other committees.

Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said it was not uncommon for the public to make such suggestions to Bush and the recommendations were routed "through appropriate channels."

Did fundraisers carry special influence? "No. Absolutely not," Campbell said. She did not respond to AP's questions about specific emails involving two fundraisers, but one of them, Mark Guzzetta, said Bush denied his requests just as frequently as he granted them.

"We always joked it would be better to be a stranger with no connection," Guzzetta said. "He was so deliberate because he wanted to make sure we received no special favors."

Bush freely gave out his personal email address during his time in office and often received notes of inquiry, complaint and thanks. Last month, Bush put the emails he said were related to his work in state government on a website, a move he and his aides said was designed to show his administration was open and in touch with constituents.

Bush was required by Florida's notably strong public records law to provide to the state all correspondence related to state government after he left office, and those emails were publicly available before Bush's created his website.

Like Clinton, Bush decided which messages were considered personal and not subject to disclosure. In 2007, he said he received and sent about 550,000 emails via his personal address, meaning about half remain private.

Among those who emailed Bush was a longtime Bush family supporter, William "Bill" Becker, a Florida citrus grower. He was among the circle of loyalists invited to huddle with Bush in December to hear about his presidential ambitions. In 2006, Becker wrote as the citrus industry dealt with advertising budget shortfalls triggered by Hurricane Wilma.

"It seems whenever I am in touch with you it is for a favor and I hate to have to do so again," he wrote on April 29, 2006, asking the governor to support a funding supplement.

Bush wrote back the same day. "We made the pitch to the speaker, president and appropriations chairs. We shall see," he wrote. Becker did not respond to three interview requests from AP.

Another financial backer who sought to sway Bush was Guzzetta, a Boca Raton real estate developer who was finance co-chairman of Bush's gubernatorial campaign. Bush was the best man at Guzzetta's wedding.

In email messages, Guzzetta urged Bush to make appointments for judgeships, a property insurance commission and the Florida Transportation Commission, among other slots. He also pressed Bush to help settle a long-simmering lawsuit over a stalled development project in Indian River County.

Guzzetta said he was not personally involved in the project, but got involved at a friend's request. "Really, it was Jeb standing in the way of it," he said.

In May 2000, Guzzetta wrote Bush expressing frustration. "When companies or individuals come to me these days for the purpose of hiring me, it's not because of my wonderful relationship with the president of the Senate or with the Speaker of the House — it's because of my association with the administration and you," he wrote.

Guzzetta told the AP he was "referring to the perception, not the reality" that he had special access to Bush.

Bush's email files do not show a reply from the governor, and Guzzetta said Bush failed to help resolve the dispute and stepped away from the issue. Three years later, the development issue was settled, with Bush's administration contributing a grant.

Another member of the inner circle gathered in December was Jim Blosser, a retired Fort Lauderdale lobbyist. He urged Bush to make appointments, ranging from a college board of trustees to a local school board.

Blosser said citizens have a duty to point the governor to worthy candidates. Should Bush rise to the White House, he said, he would do so again.

"I don't do that lightly," Blosser said. "I am not ashamed of that. I am not embarrassed by that."