George P. Bush may have distanced himself from his family’s brand of establishment, anti-Trump politics, but he’s relying on cash from their extensive network to propel his middling campaign for Texas attorney general. Cultivated across two presidencies and two governorships, the Bush money tree branches from coast to coast and includes an array of business leaders, political appointees, and donors with deep ties to P. Bush’s grandfather, George H. W., uncle George, and dad, Jeb. According to a Texas Monthly analysis, at least half of Bush’s $2.3 million haul came from individuals and entities who either previously served in a Bush administration, donated to a Bush campaign in the past, or have direct business or personal ties to the family. Most of the donations are relatively small, suggesting that the giving has more to do with favor-returning than enthusiasm for the Trump-embracing P. Bush. But money is money—and Bush desperately needs it in a race that pits him against Ken Paxton, an incumbent who has the fealty of the GOP grassroots despite (or perhaps because of) criminal indictments and an ever-growing list of scandals.
If Bush ends up winning the May 24 runoff against Paxton, he will owe a particular debt of gratitude to his dad. (Go ahead, you can clap.) Repeatedly humiliated by Trump in 2016, Jeb can’t afford to be seen on the campaign trail in Texas, where his son is awkwardly trying to present himself as a Trump stan, even after Trump once again humiliated the family by snubbing P. and giving his endorsement to Paxton. But the latest campaign finance report, which reflects funds raised from February 20 to May 14, has the former Florida governor’s fingerprints all over it. After Texas, Florida represents the number one state for contributions to P.’s campaign.
The contributors include Jeb’s longtime political allies and donors as well as current business partners—in some cases, both. Take, for example, Richard Jackson, the CEO of Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare. Jeb served on the board of the company before stepping down when he ran for president in 2015. A few months later, Jackson and his business partners pumped $550,000 into Bush’s super PAC. Then, in March 2021, Bush went back into business with Jackson, announcing the formation of a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, or SPAC, a trendy financial vehicle also known as a blank check company. The SPAC, Jackson Acquisition, would raise up to $300 million from investors through an IPO. In March, after P. Bush and Paxton emerged from a bruising four-way primary, Jackson cut P. a check for $25,000, adding to the $5,000 he had anted up in January.
In many ways, the Florida donor list is like a reunion tour for Jeb’s political career. Armando Codina, a Cuban American real estate developer who helped make Jeb rich in his twenties, offered P. $5,000. John Rood, a Florida developer and major GOP donor whom both Jeb and George W. Bush appointed to political positions, kicked in $10,000 to P.’s campaign. Karl Stenstrom, a regular Jeb golf partner who donated generously to Jeb’s presidential super PAC, gave P. $5,000. Micky Arison, Jeb sweetheart and the owner of the Miami Heat, and his wife, Madeleine, also chipped in $5,000.
Beyond Florida, not one but all four children of the late Michigan business tycoon Richard DeVos—Daniel, Dick, Doug, and Suzanne—donated $20,000 each to P. Jeb has ties to the family in part because of their support for “school choice.” (Dick DeVos is married to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s wildly unpopular Secretary of Education; Jeb and Betsy worked side by side on Jeb’s foundation to promote school vouchers.)
Closer to home, George P. is raising significant funds from wealthy individuals connected to P.’s grandfather and uncle. Oilman Ray L. Hunt, a major backer of George H. W., George W., and Jeb, is extending his largesse into the third generation—he’s given P. $150,000 so far. Drayton McLane, the 85-year-old former owner of the Houston Astros and a close friend of George H. W. and Barbara Bush, ponied up $60,000 in the most recent reporting period. Major GWB backers Steven Hicks ($10,000), Woody Hunt ($10,000), and John Nau ($25,000) are also in the mix.
Of course, P. isn’t entirely relying on calling in favors from family friends. He’s forged his own donor class. Alexander Davis, a politically unknown tech investor who is the grandson of California billionaire Marvin Davis, has donated an eye-popping $350,000 to P. Davis’s wife, Lindsay, kicked in an extra $50,000. Davis made a fortune as an early investor in Palantir and is now the CEO of a California-to-Austin firm with the sounds-like-a-parody name of Disruptive Technology Advisers. Joe Lonsdale, the California tech billionaire who has moved to Austin along with his brand of right-wing politics, wrote a check for $10,000. Jeb considers Lonsdale his “friend,” but Lonsdale and P. are closer in age. P. also scored big with Kelcy Warren, the oil pipeline tycoon who made news last June for donating $1 million to Governor Greg Abbott after Warren’s company, Energy Transfer Partners, made $2.4 billion during the disastrous winter freeze and blackouts of February 2021. Warren hasn’t invested quite so generously with P., giving him $300,000 so far.
It’s a good thing P. has found some deep pockets; not every big-time GOP donor in Texas is a fan of the one Bush who embraces Trump. During the four-way primary for Texas AG, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a vehicle for some of the most powerful business interests in the state, went all in on Eva Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court justice who leaned heavily on her compelling personal narrative and inarguable legal credentials. TLR and its individual backers—Richard Weekley and Robert Rowling among them—bankrolled Guzman to the tune of millions of dollars. It was a high-profile and high-risk snub of a brand (the House of Bush) that was once synonymous with establishment money. When Guzman failed to make the runoff, the question was whether TLR backers would hold their noses and back Bush. So far, they have mostly stayed on the sidelines, with just a handful of prominent business establishment types switching their allegiance to Bush. And the small dollar amounts do not suggest a lot of enthusiasm. Rowling, on the other hand, is now backing Paxton, giving him $50,000 after the primary—a bet, perhaps, that all the money in the world can’t fix the damaged Bush brand.