Politico: Jeb’s South Korean sugar daddy

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As he amassed wealth after leaving the Florida governor’s office, Jeb Bush delivered 10 separate paid speeches to a South Korean metal company that won more than $1 billion in contracts from his brother’s presidential administration, according to disclosures released Tuesday.

[Reposted from Politico  |  Kenneth Vogel  |  July 1, 2015]

The company, Poongsan Corp., and its CEO Jin Roy Ryu, have been generous patrons of the Bush family over the years, raising about $1 million for the presidential library of Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, while also helping to organize trips to South Korea for Jeb Bush and his presidential relatives.

Jeb did not reveal how much he was paid by Poongsan, but foreign speeches of this sort typically reap paychecks in the six figures for prominent American politicians. The first speech was in 2007, just months before George W. Bush’s administration awarded Poongsan a coin-production contract with the U.S. Mint worth as much as $1 billion. Jeb Bush delivered nine more speeches between then and 2013, when he delivered two more speeches to Poongsan.

Bush’s association with Poongsan dates back to the mid-1990s, when he was the president of his father’s presidential library foundation, on whose board of trustees Ryu sits.

“This was a personal friendship with the Bushes. He really admired H.W.,” Don Wilson, the former director of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, said of Ryu. “I wasn’t aware of any close friendship [between Jeb Bush and Ryu]. It was more with Barbara and George H.W., when I was associated with them.”

Jeb Bush served as Florida governor from 1999 to 2007, after which he began giving paid speeches to Poongsan and other companies and nonprofits during a period of rapid wealth accumulation.

His net worth mushroomed from $1.3 million to $19 million, according to tax returns and other documents released by Bush’s presidential campaign on Tuesday. The document release — which included a list of 277 speeches that paid a total of nearly $10 million — seemed intended partly to highlight Bush’s commitment to transparency and also to head off a damaging trickle of stories about his ties to controversial businesses.

But the documents also contain fodder for Bush’s critics, who have sought to cast him as a privileged scion of a political dynasty with little in common with middle-class voters. Democrats highlighted affiliations Bush’s allies would rather avoid — such as his work as an adviser for the investment bank Lehman Brothers, which paid him $1.3 million a year before it went bankrupt and helped spur the financial crisis.

And, while the list of speeches does not contain precise dates or amounts for each speech, it does in some ways shed light on how Bush traded on the political clout that comes with being a former governor who is the son of one former president and the brother of another.

Among the entities that paid Bush to speak were dozens of non-profits — from schools like Cornell University to charities like the Salvation Army to trade groups like the Mortgage Bankers Association — for whom a big-name political speaker can bring excitement and possibly donations.

For the companies on the list — such as pharmaceutical giant Pfizer or a handful of financial firms — landing a Bush speech offers the prospect of access to a powerful political family and the prestige that comes with it. That’s especially true for foreign companies, like the Indian newspaper publisher HT Media Limited. It paid for Bush to speak in 2007, at the tail end of his brother’s presidency, at a leadership summit in New Delhi, where Bush was asked multiple times about U.S. foreign policy.

“This is the life of being the brother of the president,” he said, according to an account by an Indian news agency. Though he did not divulge how much he was paid, a year earlier the same summit paid former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a $200,000 honorarium.

Bush’s first speech to Poongsan came only four months after he left the governor’s mansion.

Soon after that speech, a Poongsan subsidiary called PMX that has its headquarters in Iowa — where then-first lady Barbara Bush had cut the ribbon in 1992 — won a $1 billion contract to supply coin metal to the U.S. Mint, over objections from advocates for U.S. manufacturers. Though George W. Bush was president at the time, the contract didn’t come up during the South Korea trip, Jeb Bush told the St. Petersburg Times in 2008.

Bush’s spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told POLITICO Wednesday “Gov. Bush has had the opportunity to visit South Korea to address the company. It was not related in any way to any government contracting issues.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb. Bush answers questions after speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago. | AP Photo

Poongsan arranged a 2008 trip for Jeb Bush to South Korea, where he played golf with the South Korean foreign minister. A South Korean news agency reported that the former governor was assessing the mood in the country prior to a summit between President George W. Bush and South Korean then-President Lee Myung-bak.

PMX representatives did not respond to questions about the speeches or the Bushes’ relationship with Poongsan or Ryu.

Overall, the company has received $1.6 billion in federal contracts, primarily from the U.S. Mint, but also from the U.S. Army.

In addition to coins, Poongsan manufactures ammunition, including land mines and cluster bombs that have run afoul of international human rights standards.

Ryu and his wife, Helen Lho, who is the daughter of a former top Korean government official, had a home in Los Angeles and are active in American public life beyond the Bush clan. They attended the 2011 state dinner at the Obama White House honoring the South Korean president.

“They were among the Korean elite,” said Wilson, though he added that both Ryu, who goes by the name Roy, and his wife were educated in the U.S. and are “very Americanized.”

Ryu serves in leadership positions for various international trade groups, Korean business and defense associations, and U.S. nonprofits, including the secretive Trilateral Commission and a childhood-focused nonprofit started by Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H. W. Bush and secretary of state under his son.

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