Friday, January 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: The importance of just being Jeb Bush (w/video)

As he plays spin the checkbook with all the Daddy Warbucks of the GOP in anticipation of a possible run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has crisscrossed the land on a carefully orchestrated tour burnishing an image of sober-minded elder party statesman, educational reformer and fabulously successful, savvy captain of industry.

And as is so often the case with hustings holograms, it's all pretty much a crock of poppycock. When it comes to possessing a keen sense of business cunning, Jeb Bush makes Willy Loman look like Andrew Carnegie. Things could be worse. Bush could have his sights set on secretary of commerce.

As the New York Times noted recently, upon leaving the governor's mansion in 2007, Bush essentially hung out a shingle reading: "Name Recognition For Sale To The Highest Bidder. No Questions Asked."

If the former governor had been more discerning, had he possessed some reservations over treating the family name as something more valuable than a brand, he might well have profited handsomely without the embarrassments.

For example, Bush was a rather adept crisis manager during his years in Tallahassee, a skill set that would have served him well as say, executive director of the American Red Cross. Instead he preferred to hemorrhage red in other ways.

As the Times reported, Bush has spent his post-office years chasing money, associating himself with less than sterling companies. That included hiring on as a board member and consultant for InnoVida. The company's top management was later discovered to have misappropriated $40 million and faked documents. It eventually declared bankruptcy, its founder wound up in jail and investors lost all their money.

Bush also has sat on the board of Swisher Hygiene, where executives had acknowledged their financial statements were less than accurate and accounting practices not quite up to snuff. But at least the board of directors' checks cleared.

Think of these companies as part of the Fortune Five Thudded.

If there is one talent Jeb Bush has honed, it's giving speeches at $50,000-a-pop. And in the years since he left office, the former governor has earned millions for essentially being Jeb Bush. Nobody does it better.

For many Florida political junkies, Bush's post-gubernatorial pinstripe panhandling will have a familiar ka-ching. In 1995, after his first failed bid to win the governorship, Bush joined the board of Ideon, which paid him $50,000 annually, along with $2,000-per-meeting.

Ideon was in the business of selling silly credit card scams and a host of other untested schemes, while its founder Paul Kahn spent company money on such things as $10,000 place mats for the company jet. Just to allay your fears, worry not, the checks to board members were still good.

In time, Kahn was shown the door with a $2.5 million severance package. And when the company was sold, Bush, who served on Ideon's audit committee, and the other board members were indemnified against any subsequent lawsuits. Whew! That was close.

We haven't even gotten to the Nigerian water pumps yet. In this deal the then-35-year-old Bush earned $650,000 working for MWI Corp. selling water pumps around the world. The Nigerian arrangement eventually involved $28 million in (cough-cough) "commissions" to MWI's Nigerian sales agent, which some fuddy-duddies in the U.S. Justice Department regarded as bribes. Bush was never accused of any wrong-doing himself. But his judgment in associating with such a hinky company remains fair game.

Political irony abounds. At least among the current crop of potential Republican presidential contenders, the former governor still comes off as the Warren Buffettesque oracle of Miami.

It's possible Bush may opt out of a presidential bid. After all, if past grousing is any indication of future peevishness becoming president of the United States would be a pay cut too far.

As the Times story pointed out, Bush spent the later years of his governorship whining about all the financial opportunities he missed out on, as if someone put a gun to his head and forced him against his will to run for office in the first place. The president makes only $400,000, or about eight Jeb Bush speeches.

To run for president, Bush's friend, former Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, said would require great fiscal sacrifice. So much for public service being its own reward — unless it also comes with cushy speaking honorariums.

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