By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The mass release this week of emails covering presidential aspirant Jeb Bush’s years as governor omitted at least a dozen emails documenting behind-the-scenes lobbying support he gave to liquor giant Bacardi.
Although some of the emails released by Bush discuss Bacardi’s request for help in its fight to use the Havana Club rum trademark, key emails that reflect the duration and vigor of the governor’s lobbying effort are missing.
The 2002 lobbying operation set in motion and birddogged by then-Gov. Bush sought to pressure political appointees of his brother, President George W. Bush, into favoring Bacardi in its bitter, long-running legal dispute with Cuba and competitor Pernod Ricard.
Bush’s lobbying at the departments of the Treasury, Commerce and State unfolded as Bacardi poured tens of thousands of dollars into the coffers of the Republican Party of Florida and, to a lesser extent, Gov. Bush’s successful 2002 re-election campaign. Ultimately, however, Bush’s lobbying efforts failed.
Bush, the son and brother of U.S. presidents, appears poised to announce soon his own presidential campaign. On Tuesday, his proto-campaign released thousands of emails to and from the former governor beginning the day before he was sworn in on Jan. 4, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2006, two days before the end of his second term.
THE SPIRIT OF TRANSPARENCY
The emails, many of which were first released years ago, were put online at jebemails.com “in the spirit of transparency,” the website says.
“Some are funny; some are serious; some I wrote in frustration. But they’re all here so you can read them and make up your own mind,” Bush wrote.
Also on the site is the first chapter of a book Bush is writing in which he is using his emails to illustrate his time in office. “Email kept me connected to Floridians and focused on the mission of being their governor,” Bush wrote.
Email also kept Bush connected to Jorge Rodriguez Marquez, then the president of Bacardi-Martini, the U.S. arm of Bermuda-based Bacardi Ltd.
On Jan. 8, 2002, Rodriguez Marquez wrote a “Dear Jeb” letter under the subject line “BACARDI NEEDS HELP.”
Rodriguez Marquez explained the backdrop of his company’s then six-year-old trademark fight with “Castro in partnership with Pernod” for the U.S. rights to the Havana Club brand. He explained he’d already contacted an aide to President Bush’s adviser and political strategist Karl Rove and Florida GOP chairman and Miami lawyer Al Cardenas.
Bacardi’s Rodriguez Marquez asked Jeb Bush for help with two matters: convincing the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control to deny a pending license application by Havana Club Holdings (the Cuba-Pernod group) and getting the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to “erase from their records Havana Club Holdings’ registration” of the Havana Club rum brand.
The next day, Gov. Bush forwarded Rodriguez Marquez’s email to his chief of staff, Kathleen Shanahan, with the note, “for our discussion.” He also replied to Rodriguez Marquez, “Jorge, I will see what I can do.”
None of those emails, obtained 13 years ago by this reporter and later filed in trademark court, were included on jebemails.com.
The email traffic that followed reads like a lesson plan for how to turn up the heat on political appointees.
Follow-up emails from Bush to Shanahan on Jan. 27 and Feb. 17 asked, “any news?”
In reply to the first note, Shanahan said, “Sent note to treasury and USTR (U.S. Trade Representative) today. Will follow up midweek.” The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, then headed by George W. Bush Administration appointee Robert Zoellick, protects Americans’ intellectual property rights overseas.
None of those emails was on jebemails.com.
Adam Moniz, an assistant in the governor’s Washington office, sent another unreleased email to Bush and others on Feb. 20. It informed them that the U.S. commerce secretary was interested in holding a Washington press briefing on the economy. “Also the Bacardi issue is partly a commerce department issue – patents and trademarks – and Jorge Rodriguez [Marquez] will be sitting upstairs for the Florida House luncheon immediately after the press roundtable. He would be WOWed.”
Gov. Bush did release several emails about Bacardi that he sent or received later that day including one from the director of his Washington office, Nina Oviendo, about her contacts on Bacardi’s behalf with a Patent and Trademark Office lawyer and her “reminder” to Bush that Bacardi “contributed over $15,000” to Florida House the previous year. Florida House is the state’s “embassy” in Washington and is supported by private contributions.
In another email that night, Oviedo informed Bush that she’d told Rodriguez Marquez how she was trying “to arrange meetings with him at Commerce and Treasury.”
“Good work, Nina,” Bush replied at 11:06 p.m.
Six days later, on Feb. 26, Rodriguez Marquez wrote Gov. Bush again to thank the governor for his “invaluable support regarding our problems at Commerce and Treasury.”
“Thank you, Jorge. I hope it all works out,” Bush replied two hours later.
The next day, Bacardi-Martini donated $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. On Feb. 28, Rodriguez Marquez and his wife gave a total of $1,000 to Jeb Bush’s re-election campaign.
Neither the Bacardi chief’s thank-you email nor Bush’s reply was posted on jebemails.com.
Though lobbying efforts by the governor’s office continued in the weeks that followed, little happened in Washington and Rodriguez Marquez grew anxious and complained in a series of emails sent to the governor’s staff. An April 9 email to Bush from Oviedo that was released says “Mr. Rodriguez is requesting our help to put pressure on these two bureaucracies where possible.”
‘BACARDI NEEDS YOUR HELP’
On April 18, a frustrated Rodriguez Marquez wrote directly to Bush under the subject line “Bacardi Needs Your Help.” He said “Fidel and Pernod” were winning. “Please, someone needs to tell PTO to stop interfering,” he said.
That night, Bush sent an email to Shanahan, “This is ridiculous. Let us discuss.”
Rodriquez Marquez’s email was released on Jebemails.com, but Bush’s note to Shanahan was not.
Bush went on to release about a dozen emails regarding follow-up exchanges about the lobbying efforts over the next two months among Bush, his staff and Rodriguez Marquez.
“My Washington office just briefed me on the status of this and we will push to get this resolved,” Bush told Rodriguez Marquez on April 24.
A few hours later, Oviedo emailed the governor to explain that one of her staffers was “setting up another set of meetings with the Patent Office and State Dept. After those meetings we may need you to personally chime in.”
Two days later, in an unreleased April 26 email, Chief of Staff Shanahan told Bush, “We may need to move up the food chain.”
Meanwhile, Rodriguez Marquez continued to agitate. On May 22, Bush’s office sent him a draft of a letter from Bush to James Rogan, an ex-congressman and President Bush’s appointee as undersecretary of commerce for Intellectual Property and PTO director. Rodriguez Marquez, who had helped write the letter, was given the opportunity to edit it.
Bush’s June 13 letter to Rogan sought “quick, decisive action” by the PTO to cancel the Havana Club trademark. It did not go out until two weeks after Bacardi-Martini contributed $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida on May 29. State records show that Rodriguez Marquez authorized the $50,000 gift as well as $37,000 in additional Bacardi-Martini contributions to the Republican Party between mid-2001 and June 2002.
At the time, Bush’s office denied that Bacardi’s campaign contributions influenced its lobbying actions on Bacardi’s behalf.
“There was no quid pro quo,” Bush spokeswoman Jill Bratina told this reporter in October 2002. “The governor strongly supports the position of Bacardi in this dispute and he is helping a company that has extensive offices and employees in the state.”
Ultimately, the lobbying by Gov. Bush and his staff backfired on Bacardi and the PTO ruled against it in January 2004.