George P Bush and his secret $1.5 million mansion

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George P Bush
George P Bush, photo: Gage Skidmore, CC2.0

Texas Land Commissioner George P Bush, a prominent member of the Bush-family political dynasty, has a $1.5 million mansion in Austin, Texas that was kept secret from the public until earlier this week.

A secret loan for a secret mansion

George P Bush, Amanda Bush
George P Bush, his wife Amanda, and his father Governor Jeb Bush and mother Columba Bush.

According to a sensational report by Jay Root in the Texas Tribune, the house was purchased using an $850,000 loan he obtained from a bank owned by a major Bush donor named Brandon Steele. Steele, who also employs Bush’s wife Amanda Bush at another Steele-owned company, has also donated $100,000 in cash and in-kind donations to Bush previously.

The $1.5 million home is owned not by the Bushes directly. Instead it is owned through a trust which George P Bush and Amanda Bush are the creators and the beneficiaries of.

Because the loan liability belongs to the trust and not to George P Bush personally, he was not required to declare it on his Personal Financial Statement that all candidates are required to submit to the Texas Ethics Commission.

This means the Bush family were able to live in what is to all intensive purposes a secret mansion.

Financial disclosures of the rich and famous

According to the Texas Tribune, the use of trusts to obscure loan liabilities is new territory for the Texas Ethics Commission.

Ian Steusloff, the Commission’s general counsel was quoted as saying, “I’m not aware of any opinions from the commission specifically addressing these facts. Whether that constitutes a beneficial interest would depend on the facts. Every case is different.”

We do know from previous reporting at News Growl that very wealthy politicians can have very complicated personal finances, and these complications can make it difficult for the average voter to understand a true picture of a candidates liabilities.

Ash Wright, Bush’s political director, poo-pooed the Tribune’s story calling it “another absurd fake news story from the liberal media.”

Wright explained in a statement, “Commissioner Bush purchased his home just like every other family does by taking out a mortgage at a bank. For security reasons, the Commissioner used a trust to buy the house to protect his family’s address from being publicly listed. Having received death threats, he thought it wise to protect his family.”

The current ethics regulations in Texas stem from reaction to a Democratic ethical scandal in the early 1970s. The Tribune also quoted Buck Wood, an ethics lawyer who helped draft the current legislation. He expressed concern about the apparent loophole George P Bush was exploiting:

“This is the root cause of the problem that we passed the ethics bill for in the first place. It was to find out if you’ve got conflicts of interest, You have a financial relationship that’s involving hundreds of thousands of dollars with somebody who is interested in what goes on in your office, yet you don’t have any idea how this is being financed?”

Wood also added that if Bush’s use of a trust holds up, he expects the practice to become common for other Texas politicians.

Remember George P Bush’s Alamo

The AlamoBush is up for reelection in November, and is facing competition from three other Republicans in the March 6th primaries.

Besides the unwelcome controversy about his home-owning family trust, he has also announced his plans to resign from the board of the nonprofit Alamo Trust, which looks after the day-to-day running of Texas’ most famous historic site.

This announcement follows extensive coverage by the Austin-based newspaper, the Statesman, which obtained a unreleased draft internal audit report of the Trust by Texas’ General Land Office (GLO). According to the Statesman, the report found “the GLO’s use of a nonprofit to manage the Alamo’s day-to-day operations was unduly complicated and sometimes led to practices that run afoul of state requirements.”

One of those complications is undoubtedly George P Bush’s position of influence within both the GLO (which Bush is the head of as Texas Land Commissioner) and the Alamo Trust (which Bush set up in 2014 and sits on the board of). With the Texas Senate finance committee reportedly recommending Bush resign from the Alamo Trust board, Bush told the San Antonio Express-News, “It is my intent to resign from Alamo Trust so I wear exclusively the hat of being land commissioner on the reimbursement side of the ledger.”

Jerry Patterson, one of Bush’s opponents in the March primary and a former Texas Land Commissioner himself, is already using the Alamo Trust story as a campaign issue.

As quoted in the Statesman, he said, “If you’re right, you don’t need to worry about appearances, unless you’re George P Bush.

“When is he going to learn, it’s not about looking good for the next election, it’s about doing your job. He still appoints the entire board of directors and has already signed contracts for both contracting parties. What a sham.”

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