WASHINGTON – In the first presidential race since Democrats cast the GOP nominee as an out-of-touch millionaire, Republican Jeb Bush is aggressively trying to flip the script.
Bush released three decades of federal tax returns on Tuesday that show he’s generated a vast fortune since leaving the Florida governor’s mansion. But they also show that Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton made more in speaking fees and book royalties alone in the past year and a half than Bush and his wife earned overall in the first seven years after he left public office.
In an online posting that accompanied Tuesday’s disclosure, Bush added, “One fun fact I learned in this process: I have paid a higher tax rate than the Clintons even though I earned less income.”
As part of an effort to show a commitment to personal transparency, Bush posted his personal income tax returns on a website that outlines his work history since 1981. They show he paid an effective federal income tax rate of roughly 36 percent in the past three decades and made roughly $27.7 million in total income between 2007 and 2013.
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By comparison, the Clintons’ earnings exceeded $30 million combined in speaking fees and book royalties between January 2014 and May 2015, according to a personal financial disclosure Clinton filed earlier this year. In that time, the Clintons paid a tax rate of more than 30 percent.
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 Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
“I think it’s more positioning for the general election than the primary,” Weiser said. “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.”
Republicans have for months sought to make an issue out of Clinton’s hefty speaking fees and her comments that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” after leaving the White House, as well as her use of a private email account and server during her tenure as secretary of state.
Bush is the first of the nearly two-dozen major candidates for president in 2016 to release tax returns, and in doing so, he made public more of his financial history than any past White House candidate. The next best was Republican Bob Dole, who released 29 years of his income tax returns while running in 1996.
But Bush also released his returns on the same day the State Department made public the first major batch of emails from Clinton’s private account. He made a point Tuesday of reminding people that more than 275,000 emails sent to and from his private email account during his time as governor have been online for months.
“Some of them were funny, some serious, some a little embarrassing,” Bush wrote. “But I put them all out because I wanted people to have a window into my leadership style and be able to see for themselves how I handled the issues facing our state.”
To be sure, Bush’s income puts him squarely among the top 1 percent of Americans. He earned nearly $7.4 million in total income in 2013, the year covered by the most recent tax return released, and made an average of nearly $4 million a year between 2007 and 2013.
Like Clinton, he has profited mightily from giving paid speeches, earning nearly $10 million by delivering 276 speeches from 2007 to 2015 to groups that included universities, companies, research institutes and economic forums.
Bush’s federal tax rate also 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.
That rate stands in sharp contrast to the GOP’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney. He was hammered by critics throughout his campaign for refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns. When he finally did, his filings showed he paid an average tax rate of just 14 percent.
The filings Bush posted Tuesday show that he has not aggressively used shelters, deductions or deferred instruments to lower his tax rate as many high earners, Romney among them, often do. That includes donations to charity. Filings from 2007 through 2013 show Bush and his wife gave away $432,000, or a little less than 2 percent of their income on average.
“Since I left the governor’s office I have tried to give back – and even though all of us strive to do more – I’m proud of what Columba and I have contributed,” Bush wrote on his site.