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Adding up the candidates' personal finances

By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2002

Bush. Reno. McBride. Jones. Getting tough to tell the four candidates for governor apart?

Bush. Reno. McBride. Jones. Getting tough to tell the four candidates for governor apart?

Looking at their personal financial assets might help. Aside from the allure of perusing how much money they have, a closer look at their wealth (or lack of it) can shed new light on their financial acumen. As budget-squeezed Floridians, we all want our governor to run a tight fiscal ship.

Incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush, who is seeking re-election, has watched a net worth assembled as a Miami real estate developer dwindle each year since winning the 1998 governor's race.

Does Bush, 49 and a Republican, feel your pain over shrinking 401(k) retirement funds? Bush's 401(k), from his partnership days with Miami developer Armando Codina, fell 23 percent from $257,000 to $198,000 in 2001.

Not to worry. Bush, who lives for free in the governor's mansion and travels at state expense, is still worth about $1.6-million.

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, 64 and a Democrat, decided to cash in on her high government profile -- one routinely lampooned on, and enhanced by, Saturday Night Live comedy skits -- by hitting the speaker's circuit last year at full throttle.

Her impressive one-year take simply from talking: $628,722. That's an average in 2001 of about $12,091 a week, or $1,723 a day. Reno's income last year, minus speaking fees: just $18,000.

Former Holland & Knight lawyer Bill McBride, 57, earned nearly $450,000 as managing partner of a large Tampa law firm. But his biggest holdings, as of year-end 2001, are in real estate.

In addition to an impressive Thonotosassa home valued -- modestly, from the look of the house -- at $550,000, McBride owns adjacent land and an orange grove worth $370,000. As a "gentleman farmer" of oranges, McBride took a tax deduction last year of $89,263 in "farm losses." McBride also has a 25 percent stake in an upscale, $660,000 vacation home in Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas.

Last in the polls is 47-year-old state Sen. Daryl Jones. And the Democrat, who declared a net worth of $726,000 as of July, is the only gubernatorial candidate who is not a millionaire. Not yet.

Jones earned $120,000 last year from his part-time job as state senator, as a Miami consultant and as a reservist in the U.S. Air Force. He values his home and time share properties at $200,000 and claims $418,000 in mutual funds and partnerships.

Each candidate's financial profile tells a story.

In his late 20s, Bush moved to Miami and came under the wing of Codina, a Miami Republican fundraiser and friend of Jeb's father (who was then vice president in the Reagan administration). Through the early 1990s, Codina and Bush expanded their real estate business. Bush personally reaped big returns on investments that required little personal money up front.

Bush reported an income of $782,607 for six months of work in 1998, the year he was elected governor. But in office, he reported 1999 income of $283,010, including his $113,304 state salary. That's a one-year decline of nearly $500,000.

In 2000, Bush reported another drop in income, by about 28 percent, to $202,648. Last year, battered by the drooping stock market, Bush's reported income fell again, by 23 percent, to $155,199. That consisted of $120,512 in governor's salary and just $34,605 from investments in his personal trust.

Bush's declining fortune is no secret. He told the St. Petersburg Times before he became governor that he wanted to earn enough money to keep his family comfortable when he entered the the lower-paying political world.

Before Bush entered public office in 1999, he sold off most of his stakes in business ventures and spread about $1.2-million among 10 mutual funds. By the end of 2001, after sharp drops in the stock markets, Bush had sold his shares in every one of those funds. Instead, he invested $333,000 in four different mutual funds and kept $335,000 in cash sitting in a Charles Schwab money market fund.

Bush also put an estimated $454,000 in three partnerships. One of them, the Winston Capital Fund, is managed by a private investment company run by Jeb's brother, Marvin Bush.

Along the way, Bush sold his Miami home and bought a Coral Gables condominium. Its value rose slightly last year, from $141,000 to $148,000.

When Reno made her financial statements public this summer, the media claimed she was the "richest" of the candidates with a reported net worth as of June 30 of $2.5-million. Well, maybe so, if Arthur Andersen did her personal accounting.

In reality, Reno is worth less. She included the value of her federal and state pensions based on a "net present value" of $848,000. But that is a sum she does not have in her hands today.

Of greater interest is Reno's recent money machine: delivering speeches. As the only woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, Reno signed up in early 2001 with Greater Talent Network, a prominent speakers bureau. Reno was paid between $5,000 and $50,000 per speech.

Speaking fees aside, Reno is a self-described "Depression child" and frugal investor. Most of her money sits in basic bank accounts. She has no mortgage on her long-owned Miami home.

McBride, who has steadily whittled Reno's lead in the Democratic primary, is a financial tale that lacks an ending. McBride is married to Alex Sink, the former president of Bank of America's operations in Florida, who was better compensated in recent years than her husband. But McBride has declined to disclose Sink's separate tax returns. He argues his wife's assets are not relevant to his run for governor.

That's a problem. Nothing stops McBride from moving assets, such as property, or liabilities, such as debts, to Sink's side of the family balance sheet. We're not getting a complete picture.

Here's a glaring example. For all his wealth, McBride's 2001 tax return shows he earned interest from savings of less than $5,000 and a paltry $1,459 from dividends. That suggests more substantial investment assets probably remain, unseen, in the financial hands of McBride's spouse.

Then there is state Sen. Jones. In one of his jobs, he uses his contacts to generate business for the Adorno & Zeder law office in Miami. He also serves as an investment-banking consultant with M.R. Beal & Co.

So what can we learn from the financial profiles of these four candidates?

Most candidates running for a statewide office are likely to be millionaires. But those who are -- and win a high-prestige but lower-paying political office -- may see their financial assets shrink during tough economic times. Kind of like the rest of us.

A few questions to ponder:

If Jeb Bush's net worth continues to decline, will that influence his longer-term role in politics? Will he be motivated to return to the private sector to replenish his personal treasury?

If McBride, now virtually neck and neck with Reno in the polls, wins the Democratic primary on Sept. 10, will he face new pressures to disclose the financial assets held by his wife?

And will Reno, such a prodigious moneymaker in her brief time on the speaking circuit, miss all that dough if she wins the governor's race?

-- Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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