James Madison Institute
The James Madison Institute for Public Policy Studies (JMI) is Florida’s premier conservative think tank and a member of the expansive State Policy Network, an organization of state-level think tanks which promote conservative policy. Based in Tallahassee, the organization has enjoyed significant influence over Florida’s recent conservative governors in Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, as well as with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. In 1994, the St. Petersburg Times referred to JMI as “Bush’s favorite right-wing think-tank.”
JMI was founded in 1987 by J. Stanley Marshall with the help of Florida State University economics professor Dr. James Gwartney. Together, the two would build JMI into an organization with significant influence in serving the far-right interests of its conservative funders.
After the jump, take a deep dive into JMI’s ties to Jeb Bush and the Koch Network:
JMI’s Close Relationship with Jeb Bush
The organization was brought into being with a welcome letter from then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who wrote, “I have heard many good things about the Madison Institute from my son, Jeb.”
In fact, Jeb Bush served on the board of directors of the James Madison Institute from 1990 to 1993, when he left in an attempt to pursue the governorship of Florida. Bush lost that election, but won in 1998, which JMI took partial credit for, saying that Bush and others went “from JMI’s Board to Leadership roles.”
The relationship between Bush and JMI stretched far deeper than a board membership. After his 1994 defeat, Bush formed the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and when he won in 1998, FFF and JMI merged to become the James Madison Institute – A Foundation for Florida’s Future. From JMI:
“This merger took place only weeks after Jeb became Governor and he expressed his endorsement of the merger. ‘The Foundation and JMI have worked together for years to promote sound public policy in Florida,’ he said. ‘I am proud of what both of these groups have accomplished and know that by combining staff and resources, the new organization will have an even greater impact throughout the state.’”
JMI-FFF carried the water for Bush on a number of issues during his time as Governor. As Bush ran on a platform of vouchers and school privatization, JMI established in 1998 the “Center for Education Entrepreneurs.” In their 2013 annual report, JMI recapped that “thanks in large part to JMI… the charter school movement flourished in Florida.”
During Bush’s governorship, JMI members received a number of appointed positions from Jeb:
- JMI economist Randall Holcombe served as a key member of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. JMI suggested that Bush’s 2006 repeal of Florida’s “intangibles tax” on financial assets was due to Holcombe’s role.
- JMI board member Marty Fiorentino was appointed by Jeb Bush to the Jacksonville Port Authority. [St. Petersburg Times, 6/22/03]
- JMI President Robert McClure “was appointed by Jeb Bush to the Florida Elections Commission.”
- Antonio Villamil served on the research advisory council of JMI and was Bush’s first director for Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development.
- JMI founder J. Stanley Marshall received Jeb appointments to the Board of Trustees of Florida State University and then the Florida Board of Governors overseeing all of Florida’s state universities. [Miami Herald, 6/28/01; Tallahassee Democrat, 2/22/05]
In return, on issue after issue, JMI sang Jeb’s praises and worked closely to promote their joint agenda:
- In 2005, JMI Fellow Geoffrey Segal praised Gov. Bush’s privatization initiative saying it saved “the state millions of dollars while simultaneously improving services.” In reality, the Tallahassee Democrat said the state’s attempt to privatize its payroll system constituted “what might be called a comedy of errors if not for the utter despair caused by some of the human and systemic errors,” while AFSCME Special Counsel Alma Gonzalez said that “companies and lobbyists with Republican connections… have profited from privatization in Florida.” Segal tried to spin the experience, saying that it provided “lessons that other states could learn from.”
- Earlier that same year, JMI Fellow Michael Bond said that “Gov. Jeb Bush… put forth a bold and innovative program to reform Florida’s participation in Medicaid.” JMI’s 2013 annual report again claimed that Bush’s decision was “thanks in large part to a 2005 JMI Study.” Meanwhile, a recent Bloomberg article referred to Bush’s legacy on the issue as creating a “Medicaid Meltdown.” The article noted that the plans taking part in Bush’s program ranked below the national average in 21 of 32 quality indicators, and in some cases “were dramatically worse.” Among other problems, almost one-third of pregnant women received no care within their first trimester, less than two-thirds of adolescents got their required immunizations, and fewer than half of children covered saw a dentist. JMI, however, was happy that Gov. Bush moved Florida away from a system that it said was “in the same ballpark” as the Soviet Union and “resembles nothing more” than Marxism. In fact, emails from Bush’s time in office revealed that JMI President Bob McClure asked if Bush had seen a JMI Study that was “extremely supportive of your call for specific reform.” Bush’s response: “Thank you Bob.”
- From the Associated Press in 1999: “But Bush was impressed by a James Madison Institute study last year that opposed a plan for a so-called ‘bullet train’ from Tampa to Orlando and Miami. As governor, one of Bush’s first acts was to kill the project.”
- As Bush and JMI fought for education reform in 1999, they encountered strident opposition from teachers unions who argued that privatization would negatively affect both students and teachers. In response, the Orlando Sentinel reveals, JMI Funded “the Professional Educators Network of Florida,” which was set up as “competition” to Florida’s Teachers Unions. Bush played his part, too: a provision in his education package “allowed groups such as PEN to attend teachers’ meetings, solicit membership… and deduct dues from paychecks, a privilege previously reserved for unions.” The Florida Education Association’s Jeff Wright told the Miami Herald that PEN was “a union buster, plain and simple.”
- Another set of emails between Bush staffers and then-JMI President Ed Moore revealed that, in 2002, Moore sent Bush staff a draft of a JMI article about tax policy to “review.” Bush’s staff made “technical edits” to the report before sending it back.
- In 2007, former Bush staffer and current director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and the Foundation for Excellence in Education Patricia Levesque published “Better Schools: The Education Legacy of Governor Jeb Bush” in the Journal of the James Madison Institute.
JMI’s Ties to the Koch Network
Even outside of its membership in the State Policy Network, JMI still has extensive funding ties to the Koch Network. The Charles Koch Foundation has made 6 contributions totaling over $100,000 to JMI since 2007; the Koch-connected DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund collectively donated more than $1,000,000 to JMI between 2005 and 2012; and the Koch-funded Cato Institute sent $100,000 to JMI in 2007 “to help fund like-minded” organizations. JMI was additionally a listed partner of Charles Koch Institute’s Liberty@Work program, a professional training program which places “individuals interested in improving well-being by advancing liberty” in Koch affiliates nationwide.
What’s more, academics and staffers with deep Koch ties have contributed greatly to the James Madison Institute from its very beginning. Dr. James Gwartney, who “really put together the skeleton of JMI” along with J. Stanley Marshall, additionally serves as an adjunct scholar at Cato, where he has been a principle co-author of the Economic Freedom of the World annual report every year from 2001 through 2014. In 2009, the authors specifically thanked the Charles Koch Foundation for its support. Additionally, a January 2008 publication of Koch Industries’ Discovery Newsletter promoted Gwartney’s book, Common Sense Economics. Gwartney is a member of the Association of Private Enterprise Education which was “created by Koch Family Foundations.”
Both Gwartney and JMI fellow/Bush appointee Dr. Randall Holcombe are economics professors at Florida State University, along with Holcombe’s wife and former JMI independent contractor Lora Holcombe. Like much of FSU’s economics department, Dr. Holcombe has received significant support from the Koch brothers. He has delivered lectures at multiple universities funded via grants from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and his position at FSU is at least partially Koch-funded. In turn, Holcombe has defended Koch’s funding to FSU on at least two occasions. Earlier in his career, according to his CV, Holcombe published for the Koch-funded Mercatus Center and served on the advisory board of the Koch-connected Beacon Hill Institute. In 2015, Holcombe stuck up for his benefactors in the Cato Journal, saying the Koch Brothers were “vilified because they are challenging ruling elites.” In Lora Holcombe’s class, Dr. Gwartney’s textbook is required, despite its “misrepresentation” of climate science.
Finally, JMI board member George W. Gibbs III attended the February 2014 Koch Brothers summit, and later that year contributed $150,000 to the Freedom Partners Action Fund. His family foundation, meanwhile, has donated to several Koch-connected organizations since 2010.