Jeb Bush has made more than $29 million since he left the Florida governor’s office in 2007 — vastly increasing his wealth through a combination of speaking fees, corporate board memberships, investments and a consulting contract with a global bank that paid $2 million a year.
That income was detailed in 33 years of tax returns that Bush, now a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, published online Tuesday evening. The campaign also said Bush is worth between $19 million and $22 million — at least 14 times as much as when he left office in Florida.
The tax returns, the most ever released by a candidate, were intended to show how transparent the candidate is willing to be — and in the process to set up a contrast with Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has not released her most recent returns and has been dogged by complaints that she is overly secretive.
Still, the information Bush released, though vast, was incomplete.
He did not, for instance, release his tax returns for 2014, a year in which his income probably surged when he sold off valuable holdings as he prepared to run for president. Nor has he released the personal financial disclosure required of presidential candidates, which would give a full picture of his assets, investments and debts.
Those forms will be released in October, Bush’s campaign said. The most recent tax return he released, from 2013, showed an adjusted gross income of $7.3 million in that year alone.
The forms show that Bush has prospered during the tenure of President Obama, whom he has derided as presiding over “the slowest economic recovery ever.” But Bush had advantages that the average American worker did not: the most successful name in modern presidential politics and a web of his own political connections that stretched back three decades.
Bush’s campaign turned the release into an online publicity event, featuring a personal message in which the candidate presented himself as a private-sector success story.
He sought to cast his rising income as evidence of his deep experience in business — and to cast his tax payments as evidence of problems in the U.S. tax code.
The documents show he paid a high effective tax rate, more than 36 percent on average, over the past three decades.
“This release will show voters how I earned a living over the past three decades and how much of that living I had to give back to Uncle Sam. (Spoiler Alert: A LOT),” he wrote in his online message. Bush continued: “I think I speak for everyone, no matter your tax rate: We need to get more money back in your pocket and less in the federal kitty.”
Between 2007 and early 2015, Bush earned $9.95 million delivering roughly 250 paid speeches, appearing before groups as varied as the Fertilizer Institute and Cisco Systems. Bush’s income from such talks spiked in 2013, when he made more than $2.14 million on the speaking circuit, according data provided by his campaign.
The returns appear to show that Bush made about $40,000 per speech, on average.
“I made less than Chelsea Clinton,” Bush said Tuesday about his typical speech fee, referring to a Washington Post report published earlier in the day that the former first daughter made $65,000 for her family’s foundation with a single 2014 appearance at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Bush made his comments to a small group of reporters, according to Bloomberg News. The Washington Post was not invited to the session.
“I’m not even on the third team of the Clintons,” he said.
Though busy on the speaking circuit, Bush spoke to fewer groups each year than did former president Bill Clinton and for less money than Bill or Hillary Clinton.
With Tuesday’s disclosures, Bush aides revealed that he had been paid more money than was previously known from two banking giants.
In June 2007, Bush signed on as an adviser to Lehman Brothers, the financial services giant, which filed for bankruptcy in 2008. When the London-based Barclays bank bought Lehman’s North American operations, Bush moved to that firm as a senior financial consultant. His campaign said Bush’s salary had been about $1.3 million a year at Lehman and about $2 million a year at Barclays.
In the online message that accompanied the returns, Bush explained the arc of his business career — from $43,000 earned working with a Miami real estate magnate in 1981 to the $7.3 million he made in 2013.
He wrote that in recent years, “I worked constantly and traveled the globe for my clients. I went on 89 trips to 29 different countries. And it paid off. Over these 33 years my income increased thanks to hard work and experience.”
On average, Bush gave 1.47 percent of his gross adjusted income each since leaving office to charity.
Although that might be a relatively low percentage of overall earnings, Bush noted that he has also lent his family name to several organizations, including groups promoting literacy and cystic fibrosis research and some of importance to his wife, Columba, including the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a Mexican ballet company and a children’s education fund.
So far, Bush stands alone in his decision to release so much information about his tax history. Several candidates, including Clinton, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) signaled Tuesday that they plan to release at least some personal tax information in the coming weeks.
Bush’s effective tax rate shot up when he left office as his rising income pushed him into new tax brackets.
The effective rate rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 40 percent in 2013, according to data released by his campaign. That means Bush has been paying the government a lot more than most of his peers.
In 2011, the top 1 percent of American earners paid a tax rate of 22.82 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously paid an even lower rate, reported at 14 percent.
Bush’s effective rate is substantially higher, in part, because the main sources of his income — consulting and speaking fees — are taxed at a higher rate than the kind of capital gains that helped make Romney rich.
“At every income level, whether $40,000 or $40 million, someone who works for a living will pay about twice as much federal income tax as someone who lives off investment income,” said Rebecca Wilkins, a tax expert who serves as executive director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition, which seeks to eliminate corporate tax loopholes.
In his message, Bush appeared to take a veiled shot at Rubio, a leading Republican rival, who made money working for law firms that did federal and state lobbying even while he served in the Florida state House.
“One thing I didn’t do was get paid to lobby or cut deals with the state government I just left,” Bush wrote. “That was a line I drew and it was the right one.”
Bush’s returns also show that the business career that he had after leaving the Florida governor’s office was much different from the career he had beforehand.
Before his 1998 election, Bush was involved in a number of ventures that seemed to trade on his family’s political connections — and which sometimes turned out poorly, exposing him to reputational risk. In all, five of his business associates from that period have been convicted of crimes. In each case, Bush said he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and said some of the people he met as a businessman in Florida took advantage of his naivete.
When Bush leapt back into the private sector after his two terms as governor, he displayed the same energy as during before. But he received far more lucrative returns, and he appeared to encounter fewer of the old problems with shady associates.
Before, Bush had sold real estate, water pumps, cellular phones and wholesale shoes. After he was governor, Bush’s work once again focused on real estate investments, but it expanded to include hefty consulting contracts, speaking fees, service on several company boards and work with investment firms
For a time, Bush sat simultaneously on the boards of six corporations, including health industry giant Tenet Healthcare, making as much as $3 million in fees and grants of stock.
Since Bush left office, much of his business activity has been conducted with Jeb Bush Jr., 31, his youngest child. Father and son shared an office suite at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., working side by side for roughly six years.
In a recent interview, the younger Bush said that his father’s business focused primarily on management consulting and growth capital, a form of private equity. “We would go to various industries and help companies grow,” he said. “So the focus was mostly health care, a couple of technology companies, real estate, oil and gas and then other kinds of niche-y start-ups.
“He works 24-7. I try to keep up.”
Rosalind S. Helderman, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Anu Narayanswamy, Allan Sloan and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.