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Corporate America’s Wasted Investment in Jeb Bush

A look at the some of the big businesses that squandered their money by supporting the doomed campaign of Jeb Bush.

February 29, 2016

Most of the money supporting former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was routed through a Super PAC called Right to Rise. As Reuters reported in January: “‘There is no return on investment on the Bush ad buys, zero,’ said one high-dollar donor who asked not to be named…” Now that Jeb! has suspended his campaign for president, we can take a look at sources of some of the  more than $100 million that supported his campaign. 

If anyone ever tries to sell you the bill of goods that corporations are not taking advantage of their Citizens United rights to spend in American politics, remember this: the top donor to Jeb! Bush’s Super PAC was a corporation. It is called CV Starr & Co, a private subsidiary of the Starr Companies, an insurance firm. CV Starr gave the Jeb! Super PAC Right to Rise $10 million. Maurice Raymond “Hank” Greenberg is Starr’s CEO. (Greenberg previously was CEO of  insurer AIG and he is in the midst of a multi-billion lawsuit against the federal government over the AIG bailout).

But CV Starr was in good company as many corporations, LLCs and business partnerships also gave to the pro-Jeb! Super PAC.  For instance, American Pacific International Capital, Inc. (APIC), another private company, gave $1.3 million to the Super PAC. This might not be a surprise since Neil Bush (Jeb’s brother) is a director at APIC. An additional $2.3 million came from Rooney Holdings Inc, a private construction company whose CEO is the former United States Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush. Another in the $1 million club was Jasper Reserves LLC, a company owned by Chris Cline, a billionaire coal baron.

But private companies were not the only ones in the Right to Rise’s money-losing mix. Another million-dollar donor to Right to Right was NextEra Energy Inc.  NextEra is a horse of different color because it is a publicly traded company (NYSE ticker: NEE).

This company likely has shareholders who may not have wanted company funds spent on a failed presidential candidate who only made it through three states  before quitting. Don’t take my word for it. Investors themselves have been raising this issue with the firm.

In 2015, NextEra had a shareholder proposal asking for more transparency of its political spending which won 39 percent support from investors. A new shareholder proposal on electioneering is pending for the 2016 proxy season. NextEra was criticized by the nonpartisan nonprofit the Center for Political Accountability in 2015 for not being transparent about its political spending.

Of course the shareholders of NextEra would not have this $1 million problem without the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. And they would not have to spend their resources on repeated shareholder resolutions begging for clarity if the SEC would write a new rule requiring transparency of political spending across the board from all publicly traded firms. 

But here we are. Companies, including publicly traded ones, can spend in politics without full transparency while shareholders foot the bill. Jeb! was supposed to be the smart bet of the smart money. But even smart money can be horribly wrong. Millions of corporate expenditures are gone. Poof! The failed Jeb! campaign, along with its many corporate backers, is just the latest example of why politics is a risky business. 

The views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the Brennan Center for Justice.

(Photo: Flickr/GageSkidmore)