Posturing for a White House bid, Jeb Bush eases out of some business dealings

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In the eight years since ending his second term as Florida governor, Jeb Bush has become a wealthy man.

Worth just $1.3 million when he left office in 2007, $700K less than when he went in, Bush’s net worth has grown substantially. Mostly, it was through a lucrative combination of consulting, the lecture circuit, real estate development, advising international investment firms and serving on corporate boards.

A diverse portfolio might be good for business, writes Joseph Tanfani of the Los Angeles Times, but it could complicate a prospective presidential bid. Bush could be exposed to criticism similar to what fellow Republican Mitt Romney faced in 2012, which ultimately hobbled his bid for the presidency.

While the 61-year-old former governor has not officially entered the 2016 presidential race, he does seem to be posturing for a political future. For example, he is resigning from Tenet Healthcare Corp. — the firm that has profited from Obamacare.

As of December 31, Bush will also end his consulting contract with British bank Barclays.

Aides tell the Times that Bush ended delivering paid speeches to devote his time to meeting with potential donors. These are moves clearly testing the waters for what supporters call a “visionary” style of campaigning.

But his detractors point out that Bush’s business record, much of which embroiled in international finance and a handful of questionable investments in South Florida, could overshadow his bid to follow father George H.W. Bush and older brother George W. Bush into the White House.

In 2013, Bush moved into private equity – a highly speculative, yet profitable world — joined by former banking executives and a Chinese airline company for wagering on natural gas exploration. One fund, based in the United Kingdom, is structured to shield foreign investors from taxes in the U.S.

Bush’s three privately held funds raised a total of $127 million for investments in domestic and foreign companies, something rather small for the private equity realm, said Bill Parish, a Portland, Oregon-based investor.

Parish told the Times that regardless of size, ambiguous investment vehicles, especially those overseas, would undoubtedly raise questions during a campaign, particularly who is working behind the scenes and what is the nature of their dealings.

Bush entered politics in 1986, becoming Florida’s secretary of commerce. He left briefly in 1988 to work with his father – vice president at the time – on his White House campaign.

After losing his first attempt at the Florida governorship in 1994, the younger Bush won four years later, to later become Florida’s first Republican governor to serve two consecutive terms.

Once leaving office in 2007, Bush established the management consulting firm Jeb Bush and Associates. Jeb Bush Jr., Jeb’s son, serves as managing partner. That year, Bush also became an adviser to New York investment bank Lehman Brothers.

With Lehman’s 2008 collapse and subsequent bankruptcy during the global financial meltdown, Bush moved to Barclays, the London-based financial services giant, which took over Lehman Brothers’ North American operations.

Another venture was a firm providing disaster response services. Bush, along with two partners, founded Maghicle Driverless, a company that develops self-driving transportation for passengers and cargo.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, told the Times Bush “was grabbing at a lot of things to make money quickly.”

Now Bush is starting to pull back, starting by leaving Barclays to focus on a potential presidential run. Bush also resigned this week from the board of directors of Tenet Healthcare Corp., a Dallas-based company that enthusiastically supported – and profited from — the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Supporting Obamacare could be another issue Bush will need to address during the Republican primaries.

Records show in 2013, Bush netted cash and stock awards of nearly $300,000 from Tenet, selling company stock that year worth $1.1 million.

His entrance into private equity began when Bush partnered with three banking industry veterans: former Lehman Brothers executive Amar Bajpai; hedge fund principal Ross Rodrigues, a former Credit Suisse analyst; and former Credit Suisse energy trader David Savett.

Britton Hill Holdings, named for the highest point in Florida, raised $40.4 million for Denver-based Inflection Energy, a company that deals in hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. The company works with natural gas wells in the Marcellus shale area of Pennsylvania and New York.

Other investment groups include BH Logistics, which raised $26 million for Dorian LPG Ltd., a shipping company for transporting propane gas launched last year in the Marshall Islands.

United Kingdom-based BH Global Aviation raised $60.8 million for investment in Hawker Pacific, an aviation sales and services company in Hong Kong, Asia, and Australia.

Although Hawker Pacific has no United States interests, the fund was set up overseas to shield the company from U.S. regulations.

Nearly everything raised for Dorian LPG and BH Global Aviation came from outside the United States, according to filings with the Security and Exchange Commission. Dorian, according to a press release, is part of a plan to develop a propane distribution network in China to “take advantage of the significant opportunities for growth.”

Records also show the firm’s largest investor is HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate.

Al Cardenas, former Florida GOP chair and longtime Bush family friend, says that Jeb’s international finance should not hurt his appeal to GOP voters, if he does choose to run for the White House.

“I think he’s always been an honest man in business and in politics,” Cardenas told the Times. “He’s comfortable with his actions and what he’s done. All the public wants to know is that you behaved honorably and that you care for them.”

On the other hand, MacManus feels Bush’s business dealings could draw quite a bit of heat, particularly from unrestrained outside political groups.

“The thing with investments,” she said, “there’s always something to criticize.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.