Politics

Unlike Mitt Romney in ’12, Jeb Bush makes transparency push

Jeb Bush appears to have learned from some of the mistakes of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
AP/File
Jeb Bush appears to have learned from some of the mistakes of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush is releasing huge batches of his emails -- and may decide to disclose a decade’s worth of tax returns -- in a transparency push that directly contrasts with the approach taken by the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

Romney faced sharp criticism from his primary rivals and Democrats for initially rebuffing demands to release his tax returns before he finally capitulated and released two years’ worth. He also faced criticism for not preserving and making public emails from his gubernatorial administration in Massachusetts.

Bush appears to have learned from those mistakes.

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As the former Florida governor moves closer to a presidential bid, he is planning to post online some 250,000 emails that he sent while he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. The emails are technically already public under Florida laws – and news organizations have examined them -- but he is trying to make them more widely accessible and searchable online.

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He is also, according to a report in Politico Wednesday, preparing to release his tax returns.

Making his emails and tax returns public stands in direct contrast with Romney, who has almost no email records from his tenure as Massachusetts governor and whose unwillingness to release his tax returns bogged down his campaign for months.

Romney supporters continue to hope that he will mount a third presidential campaign, and Bush’s early entry into the race was seen as a way to claim the establishment Republican mantle that Romney had four years ago. If Romney enters the race, Bush could make transparency an issue.

The Globe reported in 2011 that Romney’s staff purchased 17 state-issued computer hard drives and purged state government email servers in the final days of his four-year term as Massachusetts governor. Emails were also lost from several of Romney’s cabinet members because they said they were not told they needed to preserve them.

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“There has never been an administration that has provided to the opposition research team, or to the public, electronic communications,” Romney told the Nashua Telegraph at the time. “So ours would have been the first administration to have done so.”

Those are the sorts of statements that were seized upon by enemies to criticize Romney as opaque and out of touch.

Unlike Florida, the Massachusetts governor’s office is not explicitly required under state law to preserve its emails and make them available to the public.

Only a handful of emails from Romney himself were discovered through public records requests. The only reason they were available was because the state had inadvertently kept the email account from Romney’s budget chief, Thomas Trimarco. In those emails, Romney used a Hotmail account to communicate with several top advisers.

Bush’s release of emails could also draw a contrast with other potential candidates. Governor Rick Perry’s offices for years deleted emails after only seven days. It keeps copies of e-mails that the governor’s office believes are subject to that state’s public records law, but Perry’s office has maintained that doesn’t include any e-mails reflecting his views or staff discussions, according to the Houston Chronicle.

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US Senators disclose very little, and Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, so there would not be an extensive record from opponents such as Rand Paul or Ted Cruz.

Politico reported on Wednesday that Bush was preparing to make an early disclosure of a decade or more of his tax returns. A Bush aide disputed the report, which cited anonymous sources, saying it would be some time before such a decision would be made.

But Bush in the past has released his tax returns whenever he was a candidate, something Romney never did until his 2012 presidential campaign. Under pressure, Romney released one year of tax returns in January 2012, and another year in September 2012.

Romney’s reluctance was seized upon by his opponents, who used it to accuse him of being too wealthy to connect with average voters and question whether he was hiding politically damaging information.

Bush’s campaign has been under early scrutiny that he could have similar problems to Romney, with investment activity in recent years through an offshore private equity fund. Releasing his tax returns soon could snuff out some of that criticism, or get it out of the way early.

matt.viser@globe.com