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  1. Opinion

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

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks during the 2015 National Auto Dealers Association conference on Jan. 23 in San Francisco. When it comes to business, columnist Dan Ruth asks, is Bush more of a captain of industry than a glorified sergeant-at-alms when it comes to adding to his bank account?
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks during the 2015 National Auto Dealers Association conference on Jan. 23 in San Francisco. When it comes to business, columnist Dan Ruth asks, is Bush more of a captain of industry than a glorified sergeant-at-alms when it comes to adding to his bank account?
Published Jan. 31, 2015

As he prepares to make the royal leap into the 2016 Republican presidential primary field, which is getting to look like The Little Rascals meets the Koch brothers, former Gov. Jeb Bush would want you to think he is bringing all the business savvy of Andrew Carnegie to the stump.

But it appears the governor is less a captain of industry than a glorified sergeant-at-alms when it comes to padding his bank account. At 61, He Who Must Be Paid has created a legacy of several dubious business deals.

Bush, R-DeLorean, has added another shaky entry on his business resume that suggests an aspirant to the White House too often has the financial acumen of Willy Loman.

The Miami Herald has reported that between 2007 and 2010, the Cash McCall of Miami served as a board member and consultant to InnoVida, which sounds a bit like Lucille Ball's tipsy commercial for Vitameatavegamin, and was about as successful.

For all that keen consulting, Bush, R-Betamax, hauled in a cool $15,000 a month. InnoVida was supposed to manufacture lightweight building materials for affordable housing, which sounds like a bully idea. But the firm went belly up in bankruptcy court and its founder, Claudio Osorio, went to the federal slammer for 13 years for running a Ponzi scheme.

Now not to go all Whartonty Business School here, but are we left to understand that a former governor of Florida and member of one of America's most prominent political dynasties cashed his $15,000 consulting check every month and sat on the board of directors of a corporation engaged in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme by Osorio to steal $50 million, and Jeb Bush, R-New Coke, never noticed that something might be awry?

The candidate-in-waiting was never charged with any wrong-doing in the InnoVida scandal, unless, of course, you can indict someone for being blithely oblivious. Really now, on the way to pocketing $470,000 in consulting fees, the Thurston Howell III of South Florida was remarkably incurious to all the thievery going on around him. And he expects to be trusted with the nuclear codes?

Bush, R-Edsel, always has bristled at any hint he has traded on the family name, which is derived from the old English phrase "Where's mine?" For someone so touchy about being linked to any hint of cronyism, the princeling of Kennebunkport has spent much of his adult life practically walking around with a neon sign over his head blinking "Jeb Bush — Vacancy."

InnoVida is hardly the first cheesy company that figured out for the right price it could have its own personal hood ornament to create the veneer of respectability.

There was Ideon, a Jacksonville firm that bought Bush, R-"Heaven's Gate," on its board at $50,000 a year to help it peddle an array of customized credit cards, including a Vatican-themed piece of plastic. Bush sat on the board's audit committee as company president Paul Kahn was purchasing $10,000 placemats for the company jet. If the governor starts talking about running government like a business, we're all doomed.

As a young man in Miami while Poppy was running the world, Bush, R-Yugo, was given 40 percent of developer Armando Codina's company out of the kindness of Codina's heart — just because. Later the future governor of Florida was invited to participate in a real estate deal by investing a whopping $1,000 in Miami's Museum Tower, which six years later returned $346,000. Work, work, work.

In the meantime, if you can figure out the Nigerian water pump deal, good luck. A company called Bush-El Corp. still managed to return $648,250 to the Baron of South Beach.

And now comes InnoVida and its not so discerning La-Dee-Dah-La-Dee-Dah board director who paid scant notice to phony accounting statements and mystery business deals — for three years.

If Bush, R-Bag-O-Glass, wants to market himself as the savior of the GOP, that's fine. And he just may be right, which is as much a commentary on the rest of the Republican field of candidates as it is as to what qualifies someone to become president of the United States, especially if your patented trademark is Bush.

But spare us the contrived narrative that Bush, R-Bass-O-matic, is some self-made entrepreneur. To paraphrase the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards' great line about Daddio, "Poor Jeb, he was born with a silver 'consulting fee' in his mouth."