Jeb Bush accused presidential rival Donald Trump of having tried to give him money in exchange for softening his stance on casino gambling as Florida governor during Wednesday night’s Republican debate.
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Bush if, as Trump had previously charged, he was a “puppet” for donors who poured $100 million into his presidential campaign. Bush responded by turning the accusation right back on the real estate mogul.
“The one guy that had some special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views and was generous and gave me money was Donald Trump,” Bush said. “He wanted casino gambling in Florida.”
“I didn’t. Totally false,” Trump protested. “I promise I would’ve gotten it.”
“You wanted it and you didn’t get it because I was opposed to casino gambling before, during, and after,” Bush continued, talking over Trump. “I’m not going to be bought by anybody.”
“I promise, if I wanted it, I would’ve gotten it,” Trump repeated. “I know my people.”
But it appears Bush was telling the truth. CNN reported earlier this month that Trump hosted a $500-per-person fundraiser for Bush when he was running for governor in 1997, in addition to donating $50,000 to the Florida Republican Party. Legal filings obtained by Bloomberg Business also showed that Trump had explored expanding his casino business to Florida but abandoned those plans shortly after Bush’s election.
CNN noted that Trump did not personally lobby Bush to change the state’s gambling laws and that it wasn’t clear whether the billionaire aimed to influence Bush and the Florida GOP’s positions on casinos through his contributions. But Trump has repeatedly stated over the years that he has donated to politicians in order to influence them.