Twenty-nine million dollars in seven years? Isn’t that what the Clintons earned since leaving the State Department? No, wait, that’s not right. The Clintons have earned $30 million in just the last seventeen months. Jeb Bush’s haul from the past decade doesn’t quite total the windfall the Clintons have made from their exploitation of power and politics in a much shorter time frame, but business has still been pretty good to Jeb! nonetheless. Bush took the unprecedented step of releasing 33 years of tax returns yesterday, and plans to use the data to demand a flatter and simplified tax system:
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.
This is what’s known as lancing the boil. With Clinton as the frontrunner, the usual Democratic strategy of class warfare will be a little more difficult, but not impossible, as class warriors are notoriously shameless about political double standards. Bush learned a lesson from Mitt Romney’s failures to get ahead of the story and defang it well ahead of it reaching critical mass, a status that Harry Reid stoked with his McCarthyite tactics and flat-out slander from the floor of the Senate in 2012. At the very least, Democrats can’t use tax returns against Bush, which of course might be moot if Jeb! can’t win the nomination.
There’s another benefit from Bush’s tax returns, which is the effective rate he paid overall — 36%, a rather steep bite. There will be little argument possible that he evaded taxes (another lie Reid tossed around three years ago with Romney) with that kind of track record. Bush says it’s evidence that the US needs to focus on tax reform:
Bush’s income since leaving office climbed rapidly, going from $260,580 in income in his final year as governor to $7.4 million in 2014. The bulk of Bush’s income in recent years came from a combination of speaking fees, positions on corporate boards, and various business interests.
“We have a tax code that stifles growth and opportunity,” said Bush in a statement posted on his campaign website. “In my case, I paid the government more than one in three dollars that I earned in my career.
“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.”
Well, maybe. Conservatives favor tax reform and simplification for a number of reasons, none of which has to do with the apparent lack of limitation it put on Bush’s success in creating wealth for himself after his second term as Florida governor. Having his wealth increase by 1400% in seven years isn’t exactly evidence that the tax code isn’t working for Bush. Simplifying the corporate tax code (or ending it) would eliminate many of the crony-capitalist carve-outs that degrade the competitiveness of smaller players in markets. Simplifying the personal tax code would eliminate compliance costs and make self-employment more straightforward. In both cases, the idea is to help the little guy by lowering the costs of tax compliance when compared to the big guy — and Bush is the latter, not the former.
It’s one thing when candidates of modest means who struggle call for tax reform on the basis of effective tax rates. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio could make that kind of an argument with some authenticity. Even granting that Bush genuinely believes in the overall benefits of tax reform, having a man who just made $29 million in seven years complain about paying a 36% tax rate will not generate much enthusiasm for the cause among people who make $50,000 a year and haven’t had a raise in seven years. Republicans can’t win a presidential election by demanding sympathy from a populist electorate for a former governor who only managed to keep $17 million out of his $29 million while their retirement funds have shrunk in the same period. Opponents of tax reform argue that it would mainly benefit the wealthy, and Bush’s argument plays right into that.