The Interesting Stuff Inside Jeb Bush's Tax Returns

What decades of tax forms say about the Republican's skill at stock-picking, his surge in income, and a poorly timed sale of his NFL stake.

It was just one day into the 2013 government shutdown spurred by Sen. Ted Cruz's push to block implementation of Obamacare that Jeb Bush sold more than $903,216 of Tenet Healthcare Corp. shares. The company stood to benefit from the law Cruz and his allies were trying to unwind, something Bush knew well, as a member of Tenet's board of directors.

According to tax returns released Tuesday, Bush made an enormous profit on the transaction—$462,013 on that deal alone. But it wasn't the first time Bush had dumped Tenet shares. He had shed another $200,208 worth of Tenet stock two weeks earlier, on September 19, making $94,270 on that transaction.

Combined, Bush made more than $556,000 from his Tenet investments just as Republicans in Congress were ramping up the fight against the health care law that Tenet had publicly stated would benefit its business. "There is no question that our geographic presence and business model will position Tenet to capture substantial net benefits from this new law," the company said during a 2011 investor call.

Bush joined Tenet's board in 2007, acquiring his equity position in turn. The company described his value to the board in a 2011 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying Bush's presence, along with that of another politician, was important because his "experience in government is particularly relevant in light of the highly regulated nature of the health care sector, especially given the recent and ongoing activity in health care reform and related regulatory and legislative initiatives at both the federal and state level."

Bush left Tenet's board in December 2014 as he began to prepare for a presidential campaign.

Here are seven other interesting takeaways from Bush's tax returns:

—He was more charitable as a citizen than as governor.

In the eight years before he was sworn in as Florida's governor, Bush gave on average $13,531 to charities each year. But on average, he gave less than a third of that during his eight years as governor, averaging an annual donation of $4,751 to charitable causes. (His most generous year was 2002, when he donated $7,500.) Bush's charitable giving increased 15-fold in the seven years after he left the governor's mansion. From 2007 to 2013, Bush donated an average of $61,579 annually—an increase that corresponds with an explosion in his net worth upon leaving the governor's mansion. (Bush gifted $104,169 to charity in 2012 and $110,616 in 2013, the two most recent years available.)

—The private sector paid him handsomely.

Bush and his wife saw their annual income skyrocket once he left office. In 2007, he formed a consulting company, Jeb Bush & Associates, and signed on as an adviser with Lehman Brothers, the financial-services firm. Their return from that year shows $2.2 million in adjusted gross income—a more than eightfold increase from the previous year, when they reported $260,523. Bush made $129,232 as Florida governor in 2006.

—His salary increased 16-fold in eight years.

On his 1982 tax return, in the column labeled "Wages, salaries, tips, etc." Bush listed $35,875. (That modest figure was supplemented nicely by an additional $53,000 in "miscellaneous income" Bush claimed, most of it from commissions as a real-estate broker.) Eight years later, on his 1990 tax return, Bush listed his salary at $587,605. (In addition, Bush's "miscellaneous income" doubled to $106,226, thanks to his work at Bush-El Trading Corp., a company that would later face accusations of bribery in its sales of water pumps to the Nigerian government.)

—He made $7,000 selling Enron stock in 1995... and lost $13,000 that same year.

Bush paid $91,527 for 4,100 shares of Enron Liquids in February 1995, six years before the Texas energy behemoth was engulfed in scandal that led to bankruptcy and prison sentences. But he sold them later that year, in December 1995, for $98,645—pocketing $7,000 in the process. But Bush's investment record that year was a net negative. That's because he lost on Lakehead Pipe, a Minnesota-based company that produces oil pipelines. Bush bought 3,500 shares for $100,559 in February 1995. He sold the stock for $87,246 in December of that year, losing $13,000 on the investment.

—He made some bad bets.

In July 2008, Bush bought $77,326 in Lehman Brothers stock. Weighed down by toxic mortgage-backed securities, the firm filed for bankruptcy two and a half months later, and Bush sold his shares for $54 that December. In 2009, Bush also invested in News Corporation, the media giant chaired by conservative mogul Rupert Murdoch and owner of The Wall Street Journal. Bush bought $48,530 in stock in March 2008 and sold his shares for $15,664 in February 2009 as the company's stock price plummeted, losing $32,886.

—He had better luck with cars than computers.

On Bush's 1981 tax return, the first he made available to the public—and the first after moving his family to Florida from Texas—he reported a modest $41,508 in salary. That year's return, while not terribly complex on the whole, contained two interesting stock deals. Bush in March 1981 lost $2,252 selling shares of IBM stock he'd held since the early 1970s. At the same time, Bush cashed in on the Detroit automakers. In 1981, he sold his "Big Three" stock for $7,154 that he'd obtained in 1967 for $2,337—netting nearly $5,000 in the deal.

—He picked a bad time to ditch his NFL ownership stake.

When Bush in 1993 joined a group of investors lobbying the National Football League for an expansion team in Jacksonville, Florida, it looked like a long shot. But the gamble paid off: Not only did the NFL award Jacksonville with the team but after the Jaguars' rocky debut in 1995, the team went 9-7 in its sophomore season in 1996 and made a shocking playoff run all the way to the AFC Championship, losing to the New England Patriots. Bush sold his ownership stake six months after that playoff loss, amid his successful run for governor, for $526,530. Bush might have figured he was selling high, considering the expansion team had far surpassed expectations and was likely to fall back into the middle of the pack. But Bush would have undoubtedly made more money had he held onto his stake: The Jaguars reached the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, including a league-best 14-2 season in 1999, making the franchise significantly more valuable than when Bush sold his interest several years prior.