Most of Jeb Bush’s early campaign donors maxed out their contributions

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during a meet and greet event in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Tuesday.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during a meet and greet event in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Tuesday. AP

Jeb Bush’s first campaign-finance report left no doubt that the former Florida governor, who is by far the most prolific fundraiser in the jam-packed 2016 presidential field, has many loyal friends with comfortably thick wallets.

Of the $11.4 million Bush raised in the first two weeks of his campaign, most of the donations reported Wednesday — nearly $9.2 million, or about 80 percent — came not from mom-and-pop supporters scraping together a few bills but from corner-office types who right off the bat gave Bush the maximum allowed by law, $2,700.

Small donors, who sent in $200 or less, made up about 3 percent of the total haul — about $368,000, according to the report filed with the Federal Election Commission. Bush himself put more than that into his account, spending nearly $389,000 of his own cash to pay for trips, legal advice and other expenses before becoming a formal candidate.

Campaign-finance watchdogs have hounded Bush over his extensive travel and fundraising in the five months leading to his June 15 campaign launch, arguing he was running afoul of the law by saying he wasn’t a candidate when he was nevertheless acting like one. By disclosing that he paid for those expenses himself, the Republican can counter he was complying with the law that allows potential candidates to “test the waters.”

“Jeb 2016’s first report affirms what we have publicly stated over the past few months: that if Governor Bush engaged in any testing-the-waters activities that they would be paid for appropriately, and that if Governor Bush decided to run for office that any testing-the-waters expenses would be reported at the required time,” spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in a statement.

Most of the money Bush raised in the first half of the year went to Right to Rise USA, a super PAC that accepts unlimited donations and says it amassed more than $103 million. That number eclipses the totals announced by any other group, Republican or Democratic, playing in the 2016 race. Bush cannot legally coordinate with the super PAC now that he’s an official candidate.

His campaign raised about 10 times less than the super PAC, with about $8.4 million remaining in the bank after spending about $3 million over two weeks. The report is for the fundraising quarter that ended June 30.

The expenses are largely for computer equipment, campaign strategists, legal consulting, media production, travel and staff salaries. Bush spent more than $153,000 to use a charter jet belonging to Woody Johnson, his national finance chairman and owner of the New York Jets. The campaign’s tab to Uber, the ride-for-hire mobile app, was $1,396.40, though the report doesn’t detail where the rides took place.

At the end of the next fundraising quarter, Bush plans to take the extra step of disclosing his volunteer fundraisers, known as bundlers, his spokeswoman said. The law doesn’t require candidates to do so beyond bundlers who are registered lobbyists, but some have anyway, including President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Bush received more money from Florida donors — nearly $3 million, excluding small donors — than any other state. At least $807,000 of that came from Miami-Dade and Broward, including $2,700 each from his wife, Columba, and his oldest son, George P. Bush, the Texas Land Commissioner who listed a local P.O. Box as his address.

Also maxing out were father George H.W. Bush (occupation: “Retired”), brother George W. Bush (occupation: “Former President of the United States”), former First Lady Laura Bush and brother Marvin Bush. In all, the immediate Bush family donated $29,700, without counting Jeb Bush’s own $2,700.

Much of the donor list reflects Bush’s business interests. Wall Street bankers, led by Goldman Sachs, contributed heavily to his campaign; locally, so did developers. Bush once advised the now-defunct Lehman Brothers; he made much of his money in South Florida real estate.

The list of Florida donors includes former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and state Sen. Don Gaetz.

The Miami-Dade and Broward contributors read like a business who’s-who, including Facundo Bacardi, chairman of the Bacardi liquor empire; Richard Fain, chief executive of Royal Caribbean Cruises; auto executive Manny Kadre; Florida East Coast Industries, which is developing the All Aboard rail project, and builders Chuck Cobb, Edgardo Defortuna, Russell Galbut, Stuart Miller and Sergio Pino.

Some are registered Democrats, including former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, who has backed Bush in the past.

“It would be really neat for Florida to have a favorite son for president,” Naugle said. He gave $2,700.

So did Preston Henn, owner of the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale, who remembered Bush spoke at his shop when he was running for re-election as governor.

“He is so much better than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton,” Henn said. “I supported all the Bushes,” he added, saying he hoped to get a chance to vote for yet another one, George P. Bush, someday. “If I’m still alive, I’ll vote for him.”

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.