Jeb’s Portfolio Flirts With Political Disaster

Jeb Bush’s obdurately base-dissing positions on immigration and Common Core, and the toxic associations of his family’s “brand,” aren’t the only reason observers are wondering if he’ll wind up taking a pass on a sixth Bush presidential candidacy. At Bloomberg Politics today, Miles Weiss and Joshua Green report that the former Florida governor has been undertaking some recent business associations that are going to be a real problem for someone entering the maximum glare of the presidential arena. They call it Bush’s “Mitt Romney Problem,” and it could be pretty serious. Some excerpts:

Documents filed with the U.S. 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, several independent finance lawyers say, that operates like a tax haven by allowing overseas investors to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations.

BH Global Aviation is one of at least three such funds Bush has launched in less than two years through his Coral Gables, Fla., company, Britton Hill Holdings. He’s also chairman of a $26 million fund, BH Logistics, established in April with backing from a Chinese conglomerate, and a $40 million fund involved in shale oil exploration, according to documents filed in June and first ­reported on by Bloomberg News.

Hmmm. Brokering corporate inversions. Opening doors for Chinese investments in fossil fuel companies. These are indeed Mitt-ish business dealings, by a guy with an earlier taint from a gig with Lehman Brothers right before its collapse triggered the financial crisis of 2008, and with no apparent poverty he needed to address. As one Republican consultant told Weiss and Green:

“Running as the second coming of Mitt Romney is not a credential that’s going to play anywhere, with Republicans or Democrats,” says John Brabender, a Republican consultant and veteran of presidential campaigns. “Not only would this be problematic on the campaign trail, I think it also signals someone who isn’t seriously looking at the presidency or he wouldn’t have gone down this path.”

And not only that, but Bush’s commitments to investors in his enterprises might be seriously compromised if he bails to run for president.

It’s not clear how easily Bush could extract himself from his funds. Most have a “key man” provision binding the principals for the duration of the fund. In April, hedge fund manager Marc Lasry of Avenue Capital Group withdrew from consideration to become President Barack Obama’s ambassador to France when some investors wouldn’t grant him a key man waiver. A source close to Bush says he’s not a key man, but wouldn’t discuss how easily he could leave if he decides to run for president.

All in all, you can begin to understand the recent interest among big GOP donors, who had been panting for a Jebbie run, in a possible Romney revival. If you’re going to run a candidate who is perceived as “the second coming of Mitt Romney,” why not go with the original, who has already made his peace with the movement conservatives who originally opposed him in 2012 and doesn’t have the dynastic baggage? It’s not an easy question to answer.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.