8 Executives Funneling Cash to Bush Campaign

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect Gov. Jeb Bush last year, a group of eight Jacksonville-area executives has emerged as a key Florida backer of the governor's brother, presidential front-runner George W. Bush.

The group of eight executives has raised about $200,000 in Northeast Florida for George W. Bush and put two members, CSX Corp. Vice Chairman Pete Carpenter and CSX Transportation Vice President Marty Fiorentino, on a list of the Republican's top national fundraisers.

With the Bush brothers expected to visit Jacksonville in the fall, the group hopes to rake in tens of thousands of dollars more. Members said Jacksonville-area Republican donors have rallied behind George W. Bush, who has swamped other candidates by raising at least $37 million nationwide.

"This is not like we're trying to push water up a hill," said Mike Hightower, a vice president and lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and a member of the group.

The group, which also spearheaded Jeb Bush's fund-raising efforts in Northeast Florida, includes Hightower, Carpenter, Fiorentino, former state Republican Chairman Tom Slade, insurance executive Tom Petway, developer John Rood, investment banker Rick Blankenship and Palatka businessman John Browning.

Members said it is unclear how much they raised for Jeb Bush's win over Democrat Buddy MacKay last November. But in the two years leading up to the election, state records show, Jacksonville residents and businesses gave at least $213,000 to Jeb Bush and $1.5 million to the state GOP -- much of which could be used to help Bush.

The coming together of such a group to back a candidate is hardly unique. For example, a group of Princeton University alumni in the Jacksonville area helped Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, a Princeton graduate, raise $151,000 during the second quarter of the year.

But the Republican group has parlayed its support for the Bush brothers into a longrunning campaign partnership. Hightower said the effort to rally behind George W. Bush stems, at least in part, from the group wanting to help Jeb Bush. …