WASHINGTON – Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s recent business ventures reveal that he shares a number of liabilities with the Republican Party’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, whose career in private equity proved politically damaging.
Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 27 list Bush as chairman and manager of a new offshore private equity fund, BH Global Aviation, which raised $61 million in September, largely from foreign investors. In November the fund incorporated in the United Kingdom and Wales — a structure, independent lawyers said, that operates like a tax haven by allowing overseas investors to avoid U.S. taxes.
BH Global Aviation is one of three such funds Bush has launched through his firm, Britton Hill Holdings. He’s also chairman of a $26 million fund, BH Logistics, created in April with backing from a Chinese conglomerate, and a $40 million fund involved in shale oil exploration, documents show.
His ventures don’t suggest someone preparing to run for president, said a dozen fund managers and lawyers.
Most private equity funds have a life span of 10 years. While it isn’t impossible that Bush could bail on his investors so soon after taking their money, “that would be unusual,” said Steven Kaplan, a private equity expert at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Bush, 61, was a popular governor from 1999 to 2007, earning a reputation in Florida as a serious-minded politician who stressed economic development and education. A real estate developer before going into politics, he surprised no one by returning to the private sector at the end of his last term. Bush made no secret of his desire to make money.
He has earned at least $3.2 million in board fees and stock grants from public companies and given more than 100 speeches for which he is typically paid $50,000 each.
Some of these arrangements proved problematic. In 2007, Bush became a paid consultant and director of a Miami building materials start-up called InnoVida Holdings. Its founder went to jail after the company faked documents and misappropriated $40 million. There’s no evidence Bush acted improperly. In 2011, InnoVida went bankrupt.
Soon after his tenure as governor ended, Bush became an adviser to Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and, later, Barclays. As Lehman faltered during the 2008 financial crisis, he was called upon to use his family connections to try and broker a rescue from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. The plan was unsuccessful.
At one point, according to testimony in Lehman’s bankruptcy case, Lehman Chief Executive Officer Richard Fuld considered asking Bush to have his brother, President George W. Bush, intervene on the company’s behalf with the British government, which was blocking a potential merger.
Bush’s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said that if Jeb Bush runs, “he would certainly review all of his business engagements.” Nothing related to his business interests “would hinder a run for president in any way,” she said.