Florida's Think Tanks - Heavy Hitters
Florida has a cadre of think tanks determined to help shape the state's policies.
2011 Revenue: $291,772
Key Personnel: Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque. Bush is chairman, and Levesque, who served as Bush’s deputy chief of staff, is executive director.
Funding Sources: The group does not disclose donors.
About: When Bush founded the group after losing his 1994 bid for governor, the Foundation for Florida’s Future published white papers on education and other topics. Today, the high-profile think tank is perhaps the most influential voice shaping the state’s education policy. It has been a powerful proponent of creating more charter and virtual schools, providing vouchers and tax credits to help parents cover private school tuition, strengthening the state’s annual standardized testing, instituting merit pay for teachers and increased funding for digital education. The group has also been a backer of “parent trigger” legislation, which would enable parents to petition for changes at a failing public school, such as converting it to a charter school.
2010 Revenue: $2.3 million
Key Personnel: Dominic Calabro, John B. Zumwalt III, Michelle Robinson and Robert E. Weissert. Calabro is president and CEO; Zumwalt, president of Zumwalt Co., is board chairman; Michelle Robinson, a vice president at Verizon, is chairman-elect. Weissert is chief research officer.
Funding Sources: Supported by memberships, donations and grants from individuals, foundations and corporations
About: The non-profit research institute and government watchdog was founded in 1979 by a group of former Florida lawmakers and business owners who saw the need for a private and independent research organization to keep an eye on government spending. Research covers everything from education to health care, property insurance, taxes and budgeting and transportation. The group is probably best known for its annual Turkey Watch Report, which highlights appropriations that appear in the state budget at the last minute, receiving little or no public review. In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more $71 million in turkey projects that TaxWatch identified — more than two-thirds of what the group highlighted.
2011 Revenue: $1.9 million
Key Personnel: Bob McClure, president and CEO. McClure served in an advisory capacity on the transition teams of both Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. He also served on the Economic Advisory Council for Scott.
Funding Sources: While JMI does not publicly disclose its “several thousand” donors, IRS filings from other foundations show it has received funds from a number of conservatively aligned foundations and groups, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Adolph Coors Foundation and the State Policy Network.
About: Founded in 1987 by former Florida State University President J. Stanley Marshall, the James Madison Institute is Florida’s oldest and largest free-market think tank. While the group doesn’t lobby, it seeks to educate lawmakers and the public on free-market approaches to issues through research, conferences and seminars and through various publications. The group, which is a member of the conservative State Policy Network, has been particularly active on issues such as property rights, taxes, education, health care, public pension reform and property insurance.