Bush earned money from a disaster-consulting business and from stock investments, some linked to his work as a director on corporate boards. Yet most of the $29 million he has reported earning since leaving the governor's office in 2007 has come not from business ventures, but from speaking and consulting fees, the returns show.
Bush released 33 years of tax returns on his campaign website Tuesday afternoon, more than any presidential candidate ever. In a crowded pack seeking the Republican nomination, Bush is trying to win points for transparency – and short-circuit the kind of controversy that dogged the party's last nominee, Mitt Romney, who was pummeled for months in 2012 with criticisms about his private-equity fortune and reluctance to reveal tax information.
Unlike Romney, the returns show that Bush, with most of his income in fees and not investments, paid high tax rates – about 40% in 2013 and an average of 36% overall, according to Bush's statement on his website. He has received an extension until October to file his 2014 return.
"In my case, I paid the government more than one in three dollars that I earned in my career. Astounding," Bush said in his statement. "I think I speak for everyone, no matter your tax rate: We need to get more money back in your pocket and less in the federal kitty."
Contributing to those high taxes was Bush's relatively low rate of charitable contributions – about $110,000 in 2013, or 1.5%.
"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, saying he and his wife had donated $739,000 since he left office.
So far, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina is the only other presidential candidate who has disclosed tax returns; she released two years.
Bush's release comes during continued scrutiny of his business dealings in south Florida, both before and after his two terms as governor. Besides his work on the lecture circuit, he has made money as a real estate developer and served on a number of boards, including corporate giants like Tenet Healthcare and Lehman Bros.
The Tenet role earned him $462,000 in a stock option sale in 2013, the return shows.
Some of Bush's other dealings have landed him in controversy: The head of one company for which Bush served as a board member and paid consultant later went to jail for fraud after getting millions of dollars in government loans. Bush has said that he quit the company as soon as the problems surfaced and that he cooperated with investigators.
In one unusual business deal, Bush formed a disaster consulting firm in 2011 with a south Florida shipping executive. The venture paid Bush a total of $366,000 from 2011 through 2013, the returns show.
He also set up funds that invested in foreign business ventures. He says he has unwound those partnerships, as well as his other business dealings, as he prepared to launch his presidential campaign.
"But one thing I didn't do was get paid to lobby or cut deals with the state government I just left," he said in the statement. "That was a line I drew and it was the right one."
Bush has earned about $10 million in speaking fees since 2007, according to information released by the campaign. The list includes such big corporations as Pfizer and Cisco, colleges, the Texas Oil and Gas Assn. and conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation.
In the last few years, Bush has also earned millions of dollars from consulting work, according to the returns. The campaign said he received $2 million a year from Barclays, the multinational bank. Other clients included academic and medical firms.