Sunshine

How Jeb Got Real Rich, Real Fast

Jeb Bush wants you to see how much money he made over three decades—and to judge Hillary for paying less in taxes than him.

07.01.15 4:00 AM ET

Ever wonder how much Jeb! Bush paid in taxes?

Then this might be the most glorious night of your life. Late this afternoon—and a few minutes ahead of schedule—Jeb Bush released a cache of tax returns, starting in 1981.

Bush’s income skyrocketed after he finished his time as Florida governor in 2007. In his last year as governor, 2006, he made $261,000. According to his newly released tax returns (2013 is the most recent year his campaign provided), the governor has made at least $29 million since leaving office and becoming a private citizen. Not too shabby.

A significant chunk of the former governor’s income came from high-paid consulting gigs with Lehman Brothers—of 2008 recession infamy—and Barclays, a multinational bank based in Britain. Bush’s campaign told Bloomberg that he made $2 million a year through 2014 from his arrangement with Barclays. Bloomberg also noted that between 2007 and 2013, he made $8.1 million from giving paid speeches.

Bush can expect criticism for the percentage of his income that he gave to charities. Mother Jones published a story a few hours after his tax returns went online saying the governor “gave little” to charity—1.5 percent of his income between 2003 and 2013. The site noted that the national average is 3 percent and that the Obamas gave charities 15 percent of their income last year. Bush’s talent as a fundraiser has had an outsize impact on his favorite charities; his site notes that he’s held annual events that have raised $7.4 million toward curing cystic fibrosis. The campaign said he also raised $17 million as honorary volunteer chair for his mom’s Barbara Bush Foundation Celebration of Reading.

In a post on his website, Bush touted his commitment to transparency, and—naturally—he didn’t miss a chance to needle Hillary Clinton.

“One fun fact I learned in this process: I have paid a higher tax rate than the Clintons even though I earned less income,” he wrote.

A nifty graph asserts that his average tax rate over the three decades was 34 percent, compared to Clinton’s 30 percent tax rate in 2014.

For those keeping score, that’s 33 years versus one year.

But anyway, on to the transparency.

“Today, I’m releasing 33 years of tax returns—more than any presidential candidate in history,” he wrote, the text resting over a colorful graph comparing his disclosure to presidential candidates of the past.

In 1988, for instance, Michael Dukakis only released returns from 5 years. For shame.

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Bush framed his tax-return-dumping as a gesture of openness and goodwill.

“You might remember a few months back, in the spirit of transparency, I posted 280,000 emails from my time as governor on JebEmails.com,” he wrote. “Some of them were funny, some serious, some a little embarrassing. But I put them all out because I wanted people to have a window into my leadership style and be able to see for themselves how I handled the issues facing our state.”

Nevermind that under Florida’s Sunshine Law those emails were already public record.

Anyway, Bush’s release of 1,150 pages of tax returns is explicitly designed to burnish his transparency credentials.

And it’s also given him a chance to ding the U.S. tax code.

“I just came back from Estonia where it takes residents less than five minutes to file their taxes,” he wrote. “The tax release process sure would’ve been a lot easier if we were following the Estonia model.”

Bush also used the moment to tout his business experience.

Another graph shows that his business grew from 3 to 250 employees, and depicts that change in a chart, in case you have trouble getting your mind around the difference between those two figures.

Bush gave a very cursory description of the work he did between his governorship gig and presidential bid.

He mentioned, for instance, that he worked as a senior adviser to Barclays. But he didn’t mention that before taking that gig, he became an adviser to Lehman Brothers, as Bloomberg noted last December.

Omitting Lehman’s from his e-résumé makes sense, given its connection to the 2008 financial crisis.  

A few hours after Bush’s tax returns come out, the State Department will release a trove of emails Clinton sent while serving as secretary of state. All in all, an interesting day for transparency.