Mitt Romney’s career as a private equity manager and expert “turnaround artist” was supposed to be a big asset in the 2012 election. Instead, it opened him up to attacks during both the general election and the Republican primary, with rivals like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry portraying the former Bain Capital CEO as a “vulture capitalist” who laid off workers and picked companies’ bones clean.
So, if Jeb Bush is really considering a White House run in 2016, why is he in the private equity business now?
As other 2016 hopefuls go on book tours, shove themselves into the news cycle, and show up in early states, SEC filings reveal that Bush has quietly been working since at least 2013 as the chairman of Britton Holdings, LLC, a private equity firm based in Florida. The SEC disclosure filed last month is required once a firm has more than $100 million under management. For comparison’s sake, Romney’s Bain had more than $70 billion under management.
A recent Bloomberg report on both the SEC filings and Bush’s work with Britton Holdings is full of details you’d rather not have to explain as a Republican presidential candidate, particularly in a cycle when economic populism has gripped the GOP base. Conservative confabs now feature Ted Cruz slamming “the rich and powerful,” while Rand Paul warns of the folly of being the party of “fat cats, rich people, and Wall Street.”
While Cruz and Paul hammer Wall Street and rich guys, Bush’s partners in Britton Holdings include a former banker from the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, the high-flying Wall Street bank that collapsed just before the bailouts of 2008, as well as two former advisers to Credit Suisse. Among its investments, Britton Holdings is focusing some on shale oil and gas exploration, including the controversial practice of fracking. A major backer for one Britton Holdings investment is a Chinese conglomerate active in the energy sector.
Those don’t seem like the choices of a man preparing to face the microscopic scrutiny of a presidential campaign, but Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committeeman for the Iowa GOP, doesn’t consider Bush’s private equity play a deal breaker for Iowa conservatives in 2016.
“I think it’s a non-issue. The only people making a big deal about it are Democrats and the media. When a Democrat with money runs, you never hear a word about it,” Scheffler told The Daily Beast. The bigger problem for Bush in Iowa, he said, will be Bush’s shifting position on immigration, which may or may not include a path to citizenship, and the fact that Bush hasn’t been making the rounds though the state the way Paul, Cruz, and other possible candidates have. “But as long as he gets in front of the other issue, the private equity, I don’t think it would be a problem.”
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