'Bush' Letter Spurs Controversy

19 July 2000
The House vote on the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act has consumed headlines in publications throughout the world for the better part of a week. Not to be overlooked, however, several smaller stories--the Tauzan/Goodlatte pact, a bold statement made by the Administration and the Justice Department's stance, to name a few--have filled a lot of holes nicely as well. Depending how things pan out, a controversial, allegedly forged letter with Florida Governor Jeb Bush's signature on it could be taking center stage.

The letter, addressed to Rep. Cliff Stearns, conveys Bush's opposition to H.R. 3125, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act and has been circulated around Capitol Hill last week. "I want to express my opposition to the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act," the letter reads. "While I am no fan of gambling, I see this bill as a violation of states' rights and I am looking to prevent this encroachment."

Bush's press secretary, Justin Sayfie, maintains that it's a forgery and that Bush, the brother of presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush, has no official stance on the bill. Sayfie said the letter was never received by Stearns and that the signature on the letter was not that of Gov. Bush.

The letter was first distributed by Shandwick Public Affairs, although company spokesman Mark Day says the firm did nothing wrong. Day told Roll Call, "We requested and received a copy of the letter that Governor Bush sent to a Member of Congress. We have since learned that Governor Bush has disavowed the letter. We immediately ceased using it and urged others to do the same."

Before Bush's office disputed the letter's contents, H.R. 3125's opponents had passed it around Capitol Hill.

Because the letter bore what appears to be Bush's signature and came on what looked like the state's official letterhead, Shandwick officials had no reason to suspect the letter was a forgery. Sayfie, however, said that the signature is not Bush's and that the letter was sent without Bush's approval.

Former Sen. Steven Symms, who works as a lobbyist for eLottery Inc., had received a copy of the letter and thought it was the real thing. "I'm shocked. It looks so much like what Jeb Bush would say. I would expect that to be his position," Symms told Roll Call.

Sayfie says the matter is being investigated. Some sources believe that the letter could have originated within Bush's staff, while a few fingers are pointing toward overzealous lobbyists as the culprit. Rep. Goodlatte, 3125's author, told Roll Call, "I've never seen lobbyists stoop to something so low and sleazy as to engage in criminal activity, to create a forged document if that is indeed what happened."

It's easy enough to blame the bill's opponents and those lobbying against its passage, but the investigation has hardly begun. Even Bush's press office staffers admitted that the letter could have originated with someone in the governor's office. "Whoever did it is going to be in big trouble," one aide said.

A lot of politicians with upcoming elections have steered clear of taking a position on Net gambling, because of its controversial status. Gov. Bush, however, won't be up for reelection until 2002.