WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax records on Tuesday that traced his path to a net worth of between $19 million and $22 million, in a show of transparency that will pressure Democrat Hillary Clinton and his Republican rivals to open their financial books.
Bush’s income has soared since he left the Florida governor’s office in 2007, the records showed. His annual income was $260,580 in 2006, his last year as governor. Tracking steadily higher through the financial crisis and deep recession, Bush’s income was nearly $7.4 million in 2013.
The release of 1,150 documents, dating to the start of his commercial real estate career in Miami in 1981, appeared to be the largest such disclosure ever by a presidential candidate.
“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),” said Bush, whose effective tax rate exceeded 40 percent in 2013.
Bush’s move stands in sharp contrast to Clinton, the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination for the November 2016 election. She has been under pressure for months to release more details of her finances.
She and husband Bill, the former president, have built vast wealth through speaking fees. In May, they said they had earned more than $25 million for delivering 104 speeches since the beginning of 2014.
“He’s revealing in this that he’s going to be transparent,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida Republican strategist. “It’s an invitation to the Clintons to open the books.”
The former Florida governor also is applying pressure to his rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, who have divulged little of their own financial backgrounds.
Asked in a meeting with a small group of reporters in Washington whether his release was aimed at pressuring his rivals, Bush said: “They’ll figure out what to do.”
In the trove of information he made public, Bush included a chart showing his 33 years of tax records exceeded disclosures by previous presidential nominees, with 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole closest at 30 years of returns.
Releasing so much tax information, said Bush, 62, was intended to “give people a sense of who I am.”
Since leaving the governor’s office in 2007 through 2013, Bush and his wife, Columba, have reported earnings of around $28.9 million. His lawyer said Bush would release his 2014 return when it was complete and its filing date had been extended to October.
Bush comes from a family of means. His father George H.W. Bush and brother George W. Bush were both elected president.
CONTRAST WITH ROMNEY
The effective tax rate Bush has paid contrasts with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire who paid effective tax rates of less than 20 percent in 2010 and 2011 on income derived largely from capital gains. Romney’s wealth was a central issue in the 2012 campaign.
Bush’s effective tax rate of more than 40 percent exceeds most Americans’. The 2010 average U.S. tax rate was 18.1 percent and for highest 1 percent of earners 29.4 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
But Bush also wrote off substantial pre-tax business expenses from 2007 to 2013, reducing the income used in calculating his effective tax rate.
In each of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Bush wrote off more than $1 million in business expenses. Over the seven-year period, he deducted roughly 20 percent of his business income in expenses. Had those expenses all been considered part of his taxable income, his effective tax rates would be lower.
Bush has earned most of his money since 2007 through Jeb Bush & Associates, a consulting firm, and by forming, with three partners, a company called Britton Hills, which has focused on a few growth-capital investments.
He has made an average of $1.1 million each year in giving speeches since 2007 with fees ranging from $40,000 to $75,000.
“I made less than Chelsea Clinton,” Bush quipped, referring to the reported $65,000 speaking fee of the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea.
In a revelation that Democrats may pounce on, Bush made an average of $1.3 million per year over two years in working as a consultant for Lehman Brothers before the former Wall Street investment firm went bankrupt during the 2008 financial crisis. Later, he was an adviser for Barclay’s.
Bush paid no federal taxes in 1985 and 1986, two years when his investment losses canceled out his income.
He also made some mistakes in his tax record-keeping: A $6,500 item listed as income from gambling in 2013 was actually a prize he won at a holiday party, an aide said.
The tax records released covered nearly his entire business career, including his involvement in Miami real estate.
Over the years, Bush became a successful investor and a savvy tax filer. He and his tax preparer were aggressive about capturing investment losses through the credit crisis and thereafter. For example, in 2009, the market bottom following the crisis, he claimed $97,079 in capital losses that have allowed him to reduce his taxes that year and subsequent years.
Bush’s investments in so-called passive activity, such as real estate and investment partnerships have grown substantially. In 2008, he declared $590 in income in real estate and partnerships. In 2013, he claimed $679,526 in real estate and partnership income.
For the past several years, Bush has held shares in private funds founded – and in some cases managed – by relatives. As early as 2001, Bush was earning money from investments in the Winston Capital Fund, managed by his brother Marvin Bush.
More recently, beginning in 2007, Jeb Bush bought shares in several funds issued by a Texas-based real estate investment company co-founded by his son George P. Bush that is now known as Pennybacker Capital which buys office buildings, retail properties and apartments that are in disrepair and renovates them to increase their potential returns through higher rents.
George P. Bush left the company to become Texas land commissioner, a position to which he was elected in 2014.
Additional reporting by Emily Flitter in New York and Alex Wilts in Washington and Howard Schneider; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman
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