by Bill Berkowitz
May 24, 2003
Update on Afghanistan; whining over Iraq; gloating over Bill Bennett; fulminating about the president's faith-based initiative? No; no; no; and no.
Today, it's a Big Yes to the personal affairs of America's most prominent political family. We've tried -- Lord knows we've tried -- to keep these columns out of the political sewer. We haven't sloshed around in "the politics of personal destruction" -- a strategy perfected during the 1990s by President Bill Clinton's Republican enemies. Our intention has been to keep these pieces 100 percent family-friendly.
There are, however, some situations that are too succulent to neglect. So today, we're all about a Bush brother. Not the Bush sister. Did you know the president had a sister? Louis Dubose reported a while back in the Austin Chronicle that Dorothy "Doro" Koch -- the youngest of the five Bush siblings -- "quietly raises funds for charities in a Maryland suburb near Washington." Maybe she keeps to herself because, well, for her second marriage, "Doro" chose a Democrat. In June 1992, "Doro" married Robert Koch, a lobbyist for the wine industry, at Camp David in the first-ever wedding at the presidential retreat. "Doro" isn't really all that much in the shadows: She is one of the Dubya's "Pioneers," a group of more than 200 people who raised at least $100,000 each for her brother's presidential campaign.
It's bro time. Not President bro; not Florida Governor bro -- although Jeb, who the Republican Party is already touting as a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008, is more than worthy of personal examination; and not bro Marvin, the so-called apolitical venture capitalist.
Neil Bush. Come on down.
Igniting Ignite, Inc.
For the better part of the past decade or so, Neil has been out of sight and out of mind -- and that's a good thing. Some would think that the public opprobrium he received as a result of his service as director of the Silverado Savings and Loan during its major league belly flop -- costing taxpayers more than $1 billion -- was enough to last him a lifetime. According to the Denver Post's Bill Husted, "Neil received federal sanctions and, with 11 other defendants, agreed to pay $49.5 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." (Dubose reports that Neil got off for a mere $50,000, and "was banned from banking activities." Needless to say, it was time to say goodbye Rocky Mountain High and hello Houston, where the family moved in 1991.
Between 1994 and 1999, Bush ran the Houston-based Interlink Management Corp., a venture capital firm that raised and invested $60 million in high tech and biotech startups.
In October 2001, shortly after the United States began bombing Afghanistan, Neil stopped off at an international technology conference in Dubai. He was fishing for investors for his latest business venture -- Ignite Inc., an interactive education software company that he founded in March 1999. Ignite aims to help students improve their standardized test scores.
Melinda George, director of the education division of the Washington, D.C.-based Software and Information Industry Association -- of which Ignite is a member -- told the Austin Business Journal that the company is Web-based and tracks individualized learning styles. Standardized testing is one of the centerpieces of Dubya's education program.
In late January 2002, Neil dropped in on Saudi Arabia and delivered the keynote address on the concluding day of the three-day Jeddah Economic Forum. The president's brother told the conferees that the best way to change perceptions in the United States about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to expand their political lobbying. Neil maintained that the American public favored Israel because of intense lobbying of U.S. politicians by Israeli supporters.
This spring, something else has been on Neil's plate -- dissolving his marriage to Sharon Bush, his wife of 23 years.
(How does a technologically savvy twenty-first century enlightened professional inform his wife that he wants a divorce? According to the Washington Post's Lloyd Grove, Neil did it via e-mail.)
Neil has also divorced himself from 42 percent of Ignite's workforce. According to a late-October 2002 story in the Austin Business Journal, a $15 million deal with Grupo Carso Telecom SA allows Ignite, Inc. "to outsource software production" to the Mexican telecommunications giant, which will "help Ignite's bottom line as well as give it the resources to develop additional course software more quickly."
In his personal life, Neil is clearly moving on: He has been involved with Maria Andrews, the ex-wife of oilman Robert Andrews and the mother of three (the youngest 18 months), who divorced her husband in October. According to Bill Husted, Neil met Andrews when she volunteered with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. In early March, Husted reported that bighearted Neil had offered Sharon, a single mom with three children -- Lauren, the supermodel, and teenagers Pierce and Ashley -- a settlement of $1,000 a month, an offer she promptly refused.
Is Neil a wealthy man? Would the $1000 a month offer have maxed out his bank account? In late April, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bush made nearly $800,000 in 2000. And thus far, Ignite has been able to raise between $23 and $40 million. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, investors include Knowledge Universe, a company chaired by former junk bond king Michael Milken; the Nagase Brothers education company in Japan; Bush's parents; Winston Wong, a Taiwan businessman who started the Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. with the eldest son of China's president, Jiang Zemin; and Timothy Bridgewater, the chief executive of Interlink Management, the venture capital firm he and Neil started, also one of the Republican “Pioneers” who helped George W. Bush raise at least $100,000 during the 2000 campaign.
For a while, it seemed that Sharon, who lives in Texas, was miffed enough to think about spilling the Bush beans; possibly even revealing treasured family secrets to celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley. According to the New York Observer's Greg Sargent, Sharon Bush had been seen lunching with Kelley -- the best-selling author of a controversial 1991 book on Nancy Reagan and unauthorized biographies of Frank Sinatra and the British royal family -- who is "currently is researching her own book on the Bush family."
Then it appeared that she might be interested in penning her own tell all book. After all, during the twenty years she was married to Neil, her father-in-law was vice president and president, her brother-in-law, George W., became president and her other brother-in-law, Jeb, took over Florida's ship of state. A little pillow talk could go a long way on the best-seller lists.
In a deposition reviewed by Sargent, Neil Bush had said: "I threw myself at the mercy of this counseling and have -- have reached the conclusion that it is irresolvable, that our marriage has been broken. It's loveless. And there's nothing left to it. And there hasn't been for a long, long time. There's no affection. There's been very little sexual activity over the past 10 or 12 years. … Sorry if marriages fail. And I'm -- I'm sorry ours is one of those."
Sargent's New York Observer account had Sharon on the precipice of "detail[ing] her disillusionment with the family. According to her associates, she has grown despondent about her treatment at the hands of the Bushes. She said family members have turned their backs on her ever since last year, when she learned that her husband wanted to end their marriage after carrying on an extramarital affair with one of Barbara Bush's former assistants."
Sharon Bush's spokesman, Lou Colasuonno, a partner at the public-relations firm of Westhill Partners, is quoted as saying "This will be the story of Sharon Bush's life inside one of the most powerful families in America. She witnessed the evolution of a dynasty. She believes, and is prepared to reveal in her book, that the Bushes are far more pragmatic and calculating than has ever been seen before. She will show that the family orchestrates its public image from top to bottom. She will reveal that the family is in essence a political operation."
Now it appears that talk of a tell-all book was just talk. But it sure generated a lot of good old-fashioned gossip. In the end it appears it also may have motivated the tightfisted Neil to raise his offer by quite a few Benjamins. Neil and Sharon have agreed on an ''amicable, irrevocable settlement'' of their divorce.
So for now, Kitty Kelley will have to fend for herself. The Bush family secrets will remain hidden. Sharon has landed a job at the American Ireland Fund. Neil will go back to soliciting contracts from Florida's Jeb, and Dubya might even cut him in on a deal to rebuild Iraq's education system. I'm going to take a breather and head back to stories about Afghanistan, Iraq, and faith-based initiatives. See you Friday.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.