Jeb Bush ditched his corporate pals, but they won't quit him

Former associates have pumped more than $1.7 million into supportive super PAC

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Jeb Bush quit his corporate jobs to run for president.

But the companies aren’t quitting him.

Right to Rise USA, the super PAC collecting unlimited contributions to support Bush’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, has taken in at least $1.7 million from executives, companies and organizations Bush worked with or has disclosed a stake in, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Bush’s own campaign received nearly $160,000 more from contributors listing those companies as employers.

Bush-linked companies in the analysis include investment bank Barclays, Tenet Healthcare, Jackson Healthcare and timber company Rayonier Inc.

About 80 percent of the $1.7 million from companies tied to Bush flowed in to Right to Rise during the first three months of 2015, shortly after Bush resigned the majority of his corporate positions.

During that period, Bush described himself as “actively exploring” a presidential candidacy. That unofficial status allowed him to actively lobby for six- and seven-figure contributions on behalf of the Right to Rise super PAC, something not legally permitted since he became an official candidate in June.

It’s impossible to tell from public filings whether Bush personally solicited former colleagues or the companies where he served on boards.

Right to Rise officials could not be reached for comment. Allie Brandenburger, a spokesperson for Bush, emailed a statement: "Governor Bush has taken a conservative approach to all of his political activities. Throughout this process he has complied with all applicable campaign finance laws and will continue to do so."

To be sure, the money is only a fraction of the roughly $114 million raised by the network of entities supporting Bush’s campaign. But executives associated with those companies have also hosted fundraisers and solicited others, suggesting they could be responsible for millions more.

A big chunk of the $1.7 million — more than a third — came from contributors connected to British bank Barclays, where Bush was an adviser until 2014.

For instance, Stephen Lessing, who worked with Bush at Lehman Brothers and Barclays, where Lessing is now a managing director, contributed about $277,000 to Right to Rise, mostly in January, and gave $2,700, the maximum primary contribution, to Bush’s campaign after he formally declared his candidacy.

In addition, Lessing is a member of the Right to Rise executive committee, which means he has either contributed or raised $1 million, and he has been listed as a host for at least one Hamptons fundraiser benefitting the campaign.

Bob Diamond, a former CEO of Barclays PLC, contributed $100,000 to Right to Rise in March. Barclays’ Martin Shafiroff gave $25,000 and co-hosted a breakfast fundraiser in the Hamptons.

Other companies and executives pitched in, too.

Seth Bernstein is the founder of Empower Software. Bush was a member of the company’s board of directors until he stepped down in December 2014, according to his financial disclosure form. Bernstein donated $75,000 to Right to Rise, and has also been listed as a campaign fundraiser host.

Richard Jackson, the chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, and Shane Jackson, the president, together gave $550,000 to Right to Rise. Bush was a member of the company’s board of advisers, according to his financial disclosure form. Jackson Healthcare executives also donated to the campaign.

Contributors listing Tenet Healthcare, another company where Bush sat on the board of directors, gave $33,000 to the campaign and $127,500 to Right to Rise, including $100,000 from Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter in March.

Donn Walker, director of external communications for Tenet Healthcare, said there is no organized effort at the company to support any presidential candidate, including Bush, and the company doesn’t comment on “our employees’ individual, personal political activities.”

Bush was also on the board of Rayonier Inc., a publicly traded timber company that gave $50,000 to Right to Rise. Michael Bell, the director of public affairs for Rayonier, said Bush did not personally request the donation, but the company's senior management discussed it and "we support the Right to Rise mission."

"It's not really a secret that we hold Gov. Bush in very high regard," he said. 

Bell wasn't sure whether if the contribution was Rayonier's first to a super PAC, though he described such direct corporate donations to political committees as "rare."

A search of FEC records did not turn up additional super PAC contributions from Rayonier. Asked if the company would make additional contributions to Right to Rise or other super PACs, Bell said he didn't yet know.

"I'm sure it's something that we would talk about and consider," he said. "At its heart, Rayonier and most corporations don't believe they can improve public policy by disengaging from the process." 

Since 2007, when the former Florida governor left office, Bush served on the board of directors or advisory boards of at least 15 companies or nonprofits, an Associated Press review found earlier this year.

Bush this year filed a complex, 40-page financial disclosure form disclosing his previous corporate board positions, as well as positions with nonprofits, companies he owned, and investments made via limited liability companies or private equity funds.

Bush’s less direct private sector contacts yielded contributions, too — some of them sizable.

For instance, investor William Oberndorf, who sits on the board of Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush founded in 2008, gave $1.5 million to Right to Rise.

Bradford Freeman, an investment banker with Freeman Spogli & Co., which paid Bush $45,000 to give a speech in May 2014, according his personal financial disclosure report, gave $1 million

This story was co-published with Daily Beast.

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