Jun 30, 2015 11:44 PM

Bush tax returns: Big income, big taxes since 1981

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has earned nearly $28 million since leaving the Florida governor's mansion and paid an effective federal income tax rate of roughly 36 percent in the past three decades, according to tax returns released by his campaign on Tuesday.

In an effort designed to show a commitment to transparency, Bush posted the tax returns on a website that outlines his work history since 1981, including most of the time that has passed since the two-term Florida governor left office in 2007. In those recent years, Bush has served on numerous corporate boards and has seen his income rise sharply.

"Today, I'm releasing 33 years of tax returns more than any presidential candidate in history," Bush wrote on the website.

From 2007 to 2013, Bush reported roughly $27.7 million in total income. His primary occupation during that time was as a consultant, although he also made nearly $10 million giving speeches from 2007 through the end of last year.

Bush earned nearly $7.4 million in total income in 2013, the year covered by the most recent tax return released.

Bush's federal tax rate puts him in the top 1 percent of taxpayers, who paid an average of 30.2 percent between 1981 and 2011, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office. The average for middle-income households in that time was 16.6 percent.

Bush's disclosure sets him apart from other candidates, past and present, on multiple fronts.

No other candidate has released as many returns. The closest was Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee, who released 29 years of his income tax returns. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry disclosed 20 years of such records.

Bush's tax returns also show he paid a much higher federal tax rate on average than that paid by the GOP's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, over roughly the same time. The filings reveal that Bush has not aggressively used shelters, deductions or deferred instruments to lower his tax rate as many high earners, Romney among them, often do.

Romney was hammered by critics for refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns, which showed he paid an average tax rate of 14 percent.

Bush is also the first of the nearly two dozen major candidates for president in 2016 to release tax returns. But Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman at the Republican National Committee, said Bush's actions are aimed not at his competition for the GOP nomination but at Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"What Bush reports having made is likely much less than what Hillary Clinton has made, and she's portraying herself as for the little guy," Weiser said.

The Clintons have had earnings exceeding $30 million combined in speaking fees and book royalties since January 2014, according to the personal financial disclosure Hillary Clinton filed in May.

Clinton's earning since 2014 put the couple in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of all Americans.

In the online posting, Bush cites, "One fun fact I learned in this process: I have paid a higher tax rate than the Clintons even though I earned less income."

Yet the disclosure that Bush made millions from giving speeches leaves him open to some of the same criticism that Republicans have heaped on Clinton for doing the same. Bush made $9,954,500 by delivering 276 speeches from 2007 to 2015 to groups that included universities, companies, research institutes and economic forums.

And he gave relatively little to charity. Filings from 2007 through 2013 show Bush and his wife gave away $432,000 to charity, or a little less than 2 percent of their income on average.

Tuesday's release did not include a personal financial disclosure form, which is required of all candidates within 30 days of announcing their candidacy. Bush has requested a 45-day extension to do so, said spokesman Kristy Campbell.

Tax returns are much more detailed than those forms, and it has become customary in the past several decades for presidential candidates to make them public.

"At this point, it's a political requirement, if not a legal one," said Joseph Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project, a group that has collected tax forms for presidents and top presidential candidates since 1995.

Bush's Republican rivals did not indicate when their tax returns might be made public. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's team, for one, said his returns will come out but declined to say when.

Bush's filings reveal that his financial successes coincided with two political events: his father's election as president in 1988 and his own departure from political office.

His financial fortunes improved dramatically when his father was elected president, as his income climbed from $96,583 in 1988 to more than $1.3 million in 1990.

Bush's income declined under President Bill Clinton, dropping to $370,330 in 1994 and falling further to $283,428 in 1999, the year he took office as Florida's governor, when he averaged $189,734 per year.

After leaving public office in 2007, Bush earned an average of about $4 million each year through 2013.

Campaign spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said Bush's decision to release the tax returns was "consistent with the high level of disclosure he has practiced during his life in public office."

In February, Bush released more than 275,000 emails that were sent to and from his private email account during his time as governor.

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Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Jeff Horwitz and Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that Bush earned nearly $28 million between 2007 and 2013, not nearly $29 million, and an average of about $4 million, not $4.1, during that time.

It has also been corrected to say his effective tax rate between 1981 and 2013 was roughly 36 percent, not that it was an average annual rate of 36 percent.

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