Jeb Bush’s tax returns tell a story he wants us to forget about early

Jeb Bush released his tax returns yesterday. 33 years-worth of them. In a post on his website announcing the release of the returns, he reminded the public of the 280,000 emails he has also released from his time as governor of Florida — a large chunk, but certainly not all, of his correspondence while in office.

Bush seems to have learned from the mistakes of Mitt Romney, whose dogged refusal to release his returns, before finally acquiescing and releasing two years of them, became a narrative-confirming campaign issue in 2012. In releasing a long history of returns early in the race, Bush avoids charges of hiding his financial past from the public. And if the public finds anything in them that they’re uncomfortable with — which they will, either way — it’s better to air those grievances now than it would be just under a year and a half before Election Day.

Romney and Bush are considered analogous candidates, so much so that Bush’s entry into the race is likely one of the things that kept Romney from making a third run for the White House. Both come from powerful political families. Both have achieved varying degrees of massive wealth. Both have developed a knack for communicating rabidly conservative policies with just enough empathy so as to be considered moderate. Bush knows that the fundamentals of his candidacy embody many of the same strengths as Romney’s (a former governor from a blue-to-purple state with massive name recognition and fundraising capability), but also the same weaknesses (a privileged, ideologically impure plutocrat who the voters don’t take seriously). He aims to run a better version of that campaign: raising more money, owning his establishment identity and doing his best to avoid being seen as the shady businessman that he is.

Which is what makes the early release of an unprecedented number of tax returns particularly interesting. While Jeb unironically asserted that “Over these 33 years my income increased thanks to hard work and experience,” the returns tell a very different, very obvious story: Jeb Bush’s success came on the backs of his father’s and brother’s presidencies.

As Andrew Prokop explains in Vox:

Jeb Bush's yearly income, via Vox

Chart via Vox

Bush’s income is comparatively modest throughout the 1980s, which encompassed the initial years of the real estate business he founded with Miami developer Armando Codina. It’s even negative in certain years.

But suddenly, in 1990, the second year of George H. W. Bush’s presidency, Jeb’s income balloons. Not only was that his first year making six figures, but his income of $1.24 million also makes it his first seven-figure year…

…After he’s back in the private sector in 2007, though, the real boom times begin. Now, Jeb’s brother is president of the United States, and Jeb is viewed as a future presidential contender himself. His income soars so much in these years, particularly starting in 2011, that it dwarfs those of earlier decades, topping out at $7.36 million in 2013, the most recent year available.

You get a lot more return on your investment in “hard work” when that work involves wielding political influence. And as Mother Jones has already noted, Bush’s financial gains were in large part due to exactly that. On numerous occasions during the presidencies of his family members, Bush and his companies used his name and his influence to engineer some highly suspect deals. Deals like this one:

The Bush Family, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bush Family, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1988, Bush formed a company with GOP donor David Eller to market water pumps manufactured by Moving Water Industries, another Eller business, to foreign countries. The company used Bush’s White House ties to drum up business. In 1992, at the behest of MWI, the Export-Import Bank approved $74 million in US-backed loans to Nigeria to buy water pumps from Eller’s company. The Justice Department later alleged in a 2002 civil suit that about $28 million of those loans were used to bribe a Nigerian official. Bush was not implicated, but in November 2013, a jury found MWI guilty of making 58 false claims to the Export-Import Bank on its applications for the Nigerian loans. A federal judge fined the company $580,000. Bush escaped testifying after the judge determined his testimony wouldn’t be relevant to the central issue in the case.

The political connection between Jeb Bush and the former presidents Bush will be a major theme in this election, but the financial connection between them should be one, as well. Releasing this information as early as he has means that Bush knows he has a storm to weather.

It should be a rocky one.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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17 Responses to “Jeb Bush’s tax returns tell a story he wants us to forget about early”

  1. Indigo says:

    I didn’t mean Trump but it could happen. Bigoted blowhards do well these days.

  2. MyrddinWilt says:

    You mean Trump?

    Say what you like about him, he is the candidate that is genuinely most in touch with the GOP base. He is an arrogant blowhard know-nothing, just like them. He is a racist bigot, just like them. And he only cares for the interests of a few billionaires, just like them.

    Trump is the new Reagan.

  3. Indigo says:

    Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary! Jeb! Hillary!

    Whew! Oh, well, it’ll get more interesting once the real candidates stand up.

  4. 2patricius2 says:

    I have received a couple emails supporting Jeb from the Romney for president email account. Seemed curious to me that the Romney for president account is sending the emails – as though Jeb doesn’t have his own set up yet, and as though Romney is still running.

  5. Houndentenor says:

    Is Jeb for mandatory sentences for drug offenses? If so, why didn’t his own children serve such sentences when they were busted?

  6. BeccaM says:

    …and go into politics, where the money not only flows like a mighty river, corruption and insider trading become perfectly legal.

  7. nicho says:

    No. Jeb learned from his father and grandfather. Never leave a paper trail. They don’t call the Bushes The Family of Secrets for nothing. Don’t doubt for a minute that Jeb’s tax returns weren’t crafted just in case they had to be released. After all, he was the heir apparent to the White House until Karl Rove knocked over the apple cart and pushed Dubya to the head of the line.

  8. Hue-Man says:

    On the theme of learning from past mistakes, does Jeb know how many homes he owns?

    The rags-to-riches scam has to be the greatest TeaParty/GOP con job.

    “Seventy per cent of people born into the bottom quintile of income distribution never make it into the middle class, and fewer than ten percent get into the top quintile.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/03/the-mobility-myth

  9. 2karmanot says:

    “—-thanks to hard work and experience.” ROTFL!

  10. lynchie says:

    Unfortunately they know they have hit a triple. It’s not a game you and I get to play or even understand

  11. lynchie says:

    This election thingy is all a game to continue to transfer wealth to the 1%. The Dems are doing it and the GOP is complicit as well. Legislation that is passed are just tokens. Gender equality does not mean the right and the christian nazi’s wont continon ue to be bigot and hate. Support for the ACA while a small step is still transferring wealth to the insurance companies and the 1%. Even the confederate flag is a non transforming thing since many in the south will continue to carry bigtory and racism to their graves and pass it down to their children. No effort has been made to alter Companies being people and to at least have them pay taxes like the people they claim to be. We can’t even get the DOJ to go after wall street and the banks or to put a stop to the continued assassination of blacks in every city.
    As far as Jeb the Bush Crime family is alive and well and there is nothing we can do,
    Vote..left is like the right and the elections are fixed so the 1% decide who will be the figurehead for the next 4 or 8 years.

  12. dcinsider says:

    Another person born on third base and thinking they hit a triple.

  13. gratuitous says:

    Jeb! has to feel some comfort, though. Most of the folks asking him questions about his candidacy will be fellow millionaires who collect a few (in some cases more than a few) extra dollars by trading on their family names and business connections. We in the hoi polloi will be assured over and over again that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, the dubious income Jeb! has reported is all totally legitimate, a product of his hard working nature.

    These same media giants, who can’t quite discern a link between MWI’s corruption and Jeb!’s overstuffed pockets, will have no trouble stovepiping all manner of things to Clinton’s or Sanders’ campaigns, “direct” evidence of all sorts of nefarious influences (Alinksy! Socialist!) on the Democratic candidates.

    That means that, once again, it’s up to us to bring the sources of Jeb!’s suspicious wealth to the fore.

  14. bkmn says:

    At least Jebya learned one thing from Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful campaign – release your tax returns. I would lay money that from the one year that Romney release that he has filed an amended return to get his real tax rate back down to zero.

  15. nicho says:

    Proving once again that the best way to become a multimillionaire is to work hard and get yourself born to a multimillionaire — especially into a family with no principles or scruples. “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.”

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