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Bush money network rooted in Florida, Texas

Posted in the database on Tuesday, December 20th, 2005 @ 06:51:20 MST (1406 views)
by Steve Eder and Jim Drew    The Toldeo Blade  

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Long before George W. Bush began campaigning for the White House, his family built a fund-raising network of wealthy supporters to bankroll his political ambitions and propel him to the presidency.

The network - including oilmen, lobbyists, developers, and agricultural executives - became accustomed to the Bush family's style of government, with George W. Bush as governor of Texas and brother Jeb Bush as governor of Florida.

The political financiers made an investment in the Bush family, an investment that paid off.

By 2004, President Bush's re-election campaign had assembled 66 elite fund-raisers in Texas and 55 in Florida. Some of the supporters, known as Pioneers and Rangers for raising at least $100,000 or $200,000, respectively, say they collected contributions for Mr. Bush because he was a trusted friend with common political ideas.

Some, though, acknowledge that being a prolific fund-raiser translates into access for those who want to influence government decisions.

"If you support someone, it's going to give you a leg up on getting an audience. There's nothing wrong with that," said Pioneer Charles Beggs Moncrief of Moncrief Oil in Fort Worth.

Since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, the federal government has awarded more than $3 billion in contracts to the President's elite 2004 Texas fund-raisers, their businesses, and lobbying clients, a Blade investigation shows. In Florida, massive sugar companies and development firms led by Bush Pioneers and Rangers have reaped millions of dollars from government policies, which environmentalists say have sided with sprawl and development over the restoration of the Everglades.

The Bush strongholds of Texas and Florida became the roots of a fund-raising tree that by 2004 had enlisted 548 Pioneers and Rangers nationwide - including 30 in Ohio.

A Blade report in October showed that Mr. Bush's top Ohio fund-raisers collected more than $1.2 billion in taxpayers' dollars for their companies and lobbying clients.

One Ohio "Pioneer," former Toledo-area rare-coin dealer Tom Noe, was indicted in October on three felony charges that he illegally laundered money into the Bush re-election campaign. The Blade first reported on April 3 that the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation gave Mr. Noe $50 million to invest in his rare-coin funds. State officials accuse him of stealing millions of dollars from the funds.

Supporting the 'cause'

Members of President Bush's prestigious fund-raising clubs in Texas and Florida - who raised at least $17.1 million of the $40 million collected for his re-election effort last year in the two states - stood to win millions of dollars through federal energy, environmental, or agricultural policies. Others had federal contracts to supply accounting services to government agencies or electricity to the Department of Defense, while some won high-ranking appointments and ambassadorships.

Bill Ceverha, a Bush Pioneer and political strategist who spent 12 years in the Texas Legislature, believes that most of Mr. Bush's key fund-raisers didn't expect anything from the President besides sound governance.

"These are people of a stature that they don't want any appointments. They don't need anything from the government," said Mr. Ceverha, who works as a political adviser to Louis Beecherl, an oilman and Bush Pioneer who declines to speak with the media. "They are just doing it because they believe in the cause."

In the early 1990s, Mr. Ceverha was among the Texans who helped persuade George W. Bush to run for governor. Today, there are photos of Mr. Bush on the wall of his Dallas office, and Mr. Ceverha says he and his wife are invited to White House Christmas parties.

He said being a Bush Pioneer or Ranger provides access but no guarantees from the President.

"I don't know any of them who are looking for anything in particular," Mr. Ceverha said. "They know they are going to get an audience when they go to Washington, not necessarily with the President, but with this senator or that senator, or this congressman."

As Texas's governor during the 1990s, Mr. Bush established a loyal following that included deep-pocketed political financiers by selling them on his straight-forward style of leadership and looking out for their interests in the statehouse, said Tom Smith of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest organization.

"The Texas Pioneers and Rangers learned through the Bush gubernatorial era that their investments would pay off, so they were more than willing to be leaders when Bush began to run for president," Mr. Smith said.

Pilgrim's poultry

Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, the chairman of Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, is adamant that his fund-raising activities aren't done for "selfish reasons."

"I do it, first of all, for what I believe is right and people I contribute to have the same philosophy I have," said Mr. Pilgrim, a Bush Pioneer. "You know, I'm a conservative. I believe in integrity. I believe in a minimum of regulations. I don't believe in high taxes."

Mr. Pilgrim, who founded his company 60 years ago, has seen it grow into the nation's second-largest poultry producer. Last year, the company posted more than $5 billion in sales.

Since President Bush took office in 2001, Mr. Pilgrim's business collected nearly $60 million from the federal government for selling poultry to the Agricultural Marketing Service, a government agency that assists farmers and provides food for the poor.

Mr. Pilgrim said he didn't know that his company had received federal money, but he characterized the federal payments as a "small number," considering his business does "$20 million a day."

He said he's only asked President Bush once for a favor - that he speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin about stopping Russia's ban on the import of U.S. chickens. In May, 2002, President Bush spoke with Mr. Putin about the so-called "chicken war" - and the Russians eventually allowed the import of the U.S. products.

The discussions came after the two presidents signed a historic nuclear arms treaty at the Kremlin.

"President Putin and I also agree that we'll work to resolve disputed areas of trading, such as poultry or steel, in a spirit of mutual respect and trust," President Bush said at a news conference after the signing of the joint declaration.

Mr. Pilgrim, who said he requested Mr. Bush's intervention on behalf of the chicken industry, called the process "slow and even discouraging" at times.

"I think President Putin didn't have total control of many things down there in Russia, just like politicians here in America don't have total control," said Mr. Pilgrim, who added that Mr. Bush, his wife, Laura, and his two daughters, Jenna and Barbara, spent a night at his home while Mr. Bush was running for governor in Texas.

Defense and accounting

Of the more than $3 billion in federal contracts awarded to President Bush's key Texas fund-raisers and their lobbying clients, more than $1.7 billion went to the customers of Tom Loeffler, a lobbyist, former Texas congressman, and Bush Ranger.

Two of Mr. Loeffler's clients, American Management Systems and Motorola, collected the majority of the federal contract money. Motorola supplied security and communications products to the Department of Defense and other agencies, while American Management provided computer services to a number of agencies including the Coast Guard and Defense Department.

Mr. Loeffler's clients, in total, collected more than $960 million in Department of Defense contracts since Mr. Bush took office.

Julian Read, a spokesman for Mr. Loeffler, who is based in San Antonio, said the lobbying clients might have "gotten the contracts whether or not he was involved."

Adding that Mr. Loeffler has been a friend and supporter of the President for many years, Mr. Read said: "There are many, many factors involved in awarding contracts ... They probably don't have anything to do with lobbyists."

Besides chicken and defense contractors, the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers also helped keep President Bush in the White House.

The firm last year lent two of its top executives, Carter Pate and Richard Kilgust, to the Bush campaign to raise money. The two men were so successful they were named Bush Rangers.

Pricewaterhouse has collected more than $353 million for accounting and auditing services from federal agencies since Mr. Bush took office in 2001.

To bolster its business with the government, the accounting firm in late October hired a business strategy firm, California-based SM&A, as an adviser.

Mr. Pate, a Texas resident and managing partner of Pricewaterhouse's Washington office, said in a statement: "SM&A's 22-year history of winning leadership in federal business capture made them the logical choice for moving forward with us."

A spokesman declined to comment on behalf of Mr. Pate and Mr. Kilgust, another senior partner with the accounting firm.

Kingdom of sugar

For miles and miles, the land along U.S. 27 through Florida's Broward and Palm Beach counties is barren, either under water, or black with a soil that locals call "muck."

But about six miles south of Lake Okeechobee, the smokestacks of the massive Florida Crystals refinery dominate the landscape, the smoke blending with the steel-gray sky.

And in the nearby town of Clewiston, which bills itself as "America's Sweetest Town,'' workers stream out of the U.S. Sugar Corp.'s refinery as rain falls on another humid, 75-degree day in December.

The federal and state governments call it the "Everglades Agricultural Area."

It is the kingdom of the sugar giants.

Two of President Bush's top Florida fund-raisers in 2004 were Jose "Pepe" Fanjul, president of Florida Crystals Corp., and Robert Edward Coker, senior vice president of U.S. Sugar.

The sugar industry and developers have profited under President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in part by gutting the purpose of the federal Everglades Restoration Act, said Jonathan Ullman, Everglades field representative for the Sierra Club.

The law was signed in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.

Under the Bush Administration:

The Army Corps of Engineers has weakened the rules governing the proposed restoration of the Everglades, in part by restricting the Department of Interior's oversight power.

In 2002, the federal government gave the green light to rock-mining companies that want to destroy about 20,000 acres of wetlands. Environmental groups, saying the mining would contaminate groundwater, have sued.

Two years ago, at the request of Florida sugar companies and several lobbyists they hired, Governor Bush signed a bill into law to amend the state's Everglades Forever Act, which has set a 2006 deadline for the cleanup of phosphorus. Governor Bush signed legislation that delayed the planned cleanup of phosphorous pollution from the sugar industry by another 10 years.

The administrations of both President Bush and Governor Bush have allowed residential development on land environmentalists say is needed to restore the Everglades. Critics also say the administrations have not provided enough money for a proposal to replace a roadway in Miami-Dade County with an 11-mile elevated skyway that would allow for natural flow of water into Everglades National Park.

In 2000, Mr. Coker and Mr. Fanjul were at Governor Bush's side at Everglades National Park when he signed legislation into law implementing the federal Everglades Restoration Act.

"There are certain milestones in our careers and lives where everything comes together, and we recognize that we have actually done something of lasting importance,'' Governor Bush said at the time.

The Sierra Club had generally supported the $8 billion blueprint, but the group now only supports parts of it.

"We could see that both Bush administrations in Tallahassee and Washington were abandoning the plan and it was being turned into a water-supply project for the benefit of developers, specifically sprawl development," said Mr. Ullman, the group's Everglades field representative in Miami.

Russell Schweiss, Governor Bush's senior press secretary, rejected the charge and said environmental groups have distorted the governor's record.

"It is abundantly clear that Everglades restoration is one of his top priorities, based solely on the investment he has committed to the project. A lot of the governor's critics have argued that it is simply to get water for South Florida, but the fact is you can't restore the Everglades without providing a better water source to South Florida," said Mr. Schweiss, who added that phosphorous levels have declined in the Everglades during Governor Bush's tenure.

Three Florida Bush Rangers - Al Austin, Alfred Hoffman, Jr., and H. Gary Morse - served on Governor Bush's Council of 100, a business advisory group which in 2003 recommended that water from rural northern parts of the state be moved to urban areas in the south. Because of extensive opposition, Governor Bush has shelved the recommendation.

Mr. Hoffman, chairman of one of the state's largest development firms, was the council's chairman. In 2004, he was national co-chairman and Florida finance chairman for President Bush's re-election campaign. President Bush in July nominated him as ambassador to Portugal.

Mr. Austin, a Tampa-based developer, was a fund-raiser for Governor Bush's 1998 campaign.

Mr. Morse is a developer who gave more than $80,000 to the Florida Republican Party when Jeb Bush ran successfully for governor in 1998.

Another Florida Bush fund-raiser, attorney C. David Brown - a Pioneer in 2000 and a Ranger in 2004 - helped convince the Scripps Research Institute of California to locate a biotech research center on a 1,920-acre site in Palm Beach County near the Everglades.

Governor Bush has supported the project. It is on hold, in part, because a federal judge said the Army Corps of Engineers should have conducted a comprehensive environmental review of whether the institute could use the site.

Mr. Brown's law firm received about $200,000 from the state of Florida for working on the project.

Development of the land, now covered with orange groves, would damage the Everglades, the Sierra Club's Mr. Ullman said.

Energy industry

President Bush faced criticism when he was governor of Texas for aiding his financial supporters.

Critics charged that his hands-off approach to the state's booming energy industry was because he was beholden to oil and energy interests, which had provided millions of dollars for his campaigns.

Tom Smith of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen said recently that Mr. Bush had a record in Texas of deregulating utilities and allowing polluters to police themselves - policies which would foreshadow the actions he would take in the White House.

"His attempts to forgive utilities on every turn can only be figured out in the context of its payback for their help in his election," Mr. Smith said.

After his election in 2000, President Bush assembled an energy transition team that included a number of Bush fund-raisers, such as former Enron executive Ken Lay, a 2000 Pioneer, and Erle Nye, a 2004 Pioneer and the former chairman of TXU, a large Texas energy company.

Since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, TXU has collected more than $147 million in federal contracts for supplying gas and electric services to several agencies, including the Department of Defense. On Dec. 5, 2001, the Defense Logistics Agency authorized a $71 million contract to TXU for fuel oils. TXU also received a $600 million tax refund in 2003, according to the company's official filings.

During President Clinton's eight years in office, TXU received $69 million in federal contracts.

Mr. Nye, who left TXU earlier this year, could not be reached for comment. Mr. Nye was appointed by Mr. Bush to serve on the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.

Charles Beggs Moncrief of Moncrief Oil in Fort Worth, another Bush Pioneer, said he's never asked for any favors from the Bush Administration.

Mr. Moncrief said being a Bush fund-raiser "obviously" could help someone gain access.

"That works whether you are a Republican or a Democrat," he said.

Mr. Moncrief's father, W.A. "Tex" Moncrief, the longtime owner of Moncrief Oil and a major Republican contributor, said he believes one of the "big reasons" Mr. Bush decided to invade Iraq was oil. And the decision, he said, will pay dividends for the U.S. oil market.

"The Iraq situation doesn't look good, but my honest opinion is that if we hadn't gone into Iraq, then we would be in worse shape with the oil situation," he said. "The Iraqis probably would have gone into Saudi Arabia and certainly gotten into a squabble with Iran or taken them over and have a lock on all of the oil, which they don't have now."

Money: a loud voice

Texas is "a prime example of money running things," said Fred Lewis, an Austin-based attorney and leader of Clean Up Texas Politics.

"Those that give money do well," he said. "Money speaks pretty loud down here on all sorts of issues, whether it's consumer rights, environmental issues."

The same is true in Florida, where the leading sugar companies have held on to their "enormous power" by contributing millions of dollars to federal and state candidates, said Nancy Watzman, senior analyst for Public Campaign, which advocates public financing of political races.

In 1992, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul, an executive with Florida Crystals Corp., was co-chairman of Mr. Clinton's presidential campaign in Florida.

Four years later, his brother, "Pepe," was national vice chairman of finance for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, the former Senate GOP leader from Kansas.

After Vice President Al Gore suggested that a tax on sugar producers could help pay for Everglades restoration, "Alfy" Fanjul called President Clinton on Feb. 19, 1996.

Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who was having an affair with Mr. Clinton, was in the Oval Office at the time and later told investigators that someone named "Fanuli" had called while she was there. White House phone records showed that the caller was "Alfy" Fanjul.

Mr. Gore's sugar-tax proposal never moved forward.

Also that year, J. Nelson Fairbanks, the president and CEO of U.S. Sugar, led a successful effort to block a proposed state sugar tax.

In 2000, Mr. Fairbanks attained Bush Pioneer status, and when he retired in 2003, Robert Edward Coker, a senior vice president, took his place as a Bush fund-raiser.

"If you wanted to have a textbook example of a business interest that has learned how to work the system by giving campaign money, these folks would be near the top of the list,'' said Ms. Watzman of Public Campaign. "They know how to play the money and politics game to the max."

Michael M. Boone, a Bush Ranger and co-founder of the Dallas-based law firm Haynes and Boone, said contributors who expect paybacks from the White House for campaign contributions are not unique to Republicans.

"I'm sure a lot of people supported Clinton in hopes that they could get something in exchange ... and I'm sure there's somebody like that for George Bush," he said, adding that he's never asked for any favors.

"Knowing George Bush, I would never, ever trade on anything with him because I think he'd throw me out of his office. He is as clean as I can think of as a person on that kind of issue."

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.


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