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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)