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Florida's Think Tanks - Heavy Hitters

Florida Chamber Foundation - Tallahassee

2010 Revenue: $1.3 million

Key Personnel: Mark Wilson, Bentina C. Terry, Tony Carvajal and Tracey Lowe. Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and president of the Florida Chamber Foundation. Terry, vice president for external affairs and corporate services at Gulf Power, chairs the foundation’s board. Carvajal, former COO for the now-defunct Collins Center for Public Policy, is executive vice president, and Tracey Lowe, also formerly of the Collins Center, is director of program development.

Funding Sources: Not disclosed

About: The business-led group got its start in 1968 as the Florida State Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation with the goal of improving Florida’s education system. By 1983, the foundation broadened its scope to address Florida’s growing population and demands on water, energy and transportation and the need to diversity the state’s economy. A major project of the group has been the development of its “Six Pillars” framework to serve as a “visioning platform” for a long-term strategic plan for the state. The think tank created a Florida Scorecard, an online tool that provides key metrics for tracking economic progress in the state’s 67 counties.

 

Foundation for Excellence in Education - Tallahassee

2011 Revenue: $8,498,544

Key Personnel: Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque. Bush is chairman. As CEO, Levesque oversees the 47 staffers who work on policy, advocacy, events, development, communications and marketing and perform other duties for the group.

Funding Sources: Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the GE Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Walton Family Foundation, among others. Sponsors of the group’s annual summit have included education companies Amplify and Pearson, Microsoft and Target and various philanthropic groups.

About: Bush founded the non-profit in 2009 to export the education reforms pioneered in Florida to other states. The group’s agenda includes implementation of “rigorous academic standards” such as Common Core, digital learning, ending tenure for teachers and implementation of data-based evaluations and compensation. The foundation, which shares an address and some staff with its related non-profit, Foundation for Florida’s Future, has also organized a coalition of state school chiefs and leaders called “Chiefs for Change” to help advance its agenda.

Foundation for Florida’s Future - Tallahassee

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.

 

Florida TaxWatch - Tallahassee

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.

 

James Madison Institute - Tallahassee

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.