My buddy Tom Hamburger and his Washington Post colleague Robert O’Harrow published over the weekend the results of a deep dive into the business career of Jeb Bush. One of the main findings would be troubling if it weren’t so obvious:
Jeb, who was born rich and has become richer, often received lucrative opportunities from businessmen who hoped to gain access to and help from the federal government when either Jeb’s father or his brother were president. “It was a big deal,” one of his former colleagues from one of those ventures told the Post. “He could open doors we couldn’t.” It also seemed to have worked well for some of those who sought to benefit from associating with a member of the president’s family.
That should trouble us, but it’s a little late in the game to say that it should surprise us. And I don’t mean that comment to be about Bushes. It’s about how Washington really works.
The other finding is a bit more troubling. Jeb kept going into business with crooks. Jeb Bush “repeatedly put himself in situations that raised questions about his judgment and exposed him to reputational risk,” the Post team wrote. But that is euphemistic compared to the blunt statement:
“Five of his business associates have been convicted of crimes; one remains an international fugitive on fraud charges. In each case, Bush said he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and said some of the people he met as a businessman in Florida took advantage of his naiveté.”
When the Post reporters sought comment from one of Bush’s spokesters, here is the highly illuminating statement they received:
“Jeb Bush had a successful career in commercial real estate and business before serving as Florida’s governor,” said Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. “He has always operated with the highest level of integrity throughout his business career.”
The Clintons’ tale
A Republican loyalist reading the above might think it’s typical of the liberal media to go after Bush and ignore the similar issues that surround the tale of how Bill and Hillary Clinton rose from “dead broke” when they left the White House to the fabulously wealthy plutocrats they are today. But you can think that only if you willfully blind yourself to the extensive work done by the “liberal media” on the operations of the Clinton Foundation, which has included taking many, many, very, very large contributions from those who might benefit from having friends and relatives in high government places.
Since leaving her cabinet post, Hillary has followed her husband into the racket of giving paid speeches, accepting six-figure fees for an hour or so’s work. But Hamburger and O’Harrow report that after leaving the governor’s office, Jeb made more than 100 speeches for fees of at least $50,000.
Jeb Bush also received at least $3 million in fees and grants of stocks for serving on the boards of six corporations. That’s the stockholders’ money, not mine, so maybe it’s none of my business. But by my lights, we should be troubled at how both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush got so rich.
Building on the Hamburger/O’Harrow piece, Paul Waldman (who writes for the Post’s Plum Line blog and also for the American Prospect) confessed that “if a bunch of corporations wanted to put me on their boards, where I’d make millions for doing almost nothing, I might take them up on it, too. It’s only problematic if Bush thinks that experience has really taught him how the economy works.”
Bush has suggested target numbers for what the U.S. economy might do under his Oval Office guidance that, Waldman says, would make him the most successful president in history. And Bush does suggest that his business experience is part of the reason he will be able to do that. Waldman (perhaps a tad sarcastically) concluded:
“It’s possible that when he finally releases the details [of his economic plan], Bush’s program will be so creative and transformative that it will blow everyone’s mind — and only a guy who had worked making deals for water pumps in Nigeria and real estate in Florida could have devised it. On the other hand, it might be pretty much what every other Republican advocates: cut taxes, cut regulations, await glorious new dawn of prosperity. I know which one I’m betting on.”