Two years ago, when
Neil Bush and his mother, the former first lady Barbara Bush, were featured
guests at a $1,000-a-table fundraiser for the Western Heights School District
in Oklahoma City, proceeds from the event were specifically earmarked for the
purchase of products from Neil's company, Ignite! Learning. Late last year,
when Neil's mom agreed to make a contribution to a Hurricane Katrina relief
foundation for those victims that had relocated to Texas, she stipulated that
her donation had to be used by local schools to acquire Ignite products.
It must have been a
long time ago that Neil Bush, the son of Bush 41 and the younger brother of
Bush 43, discovered that the key to unlocking the entrepreneurial vault was to
take full advantage of the Family. While entrepreneurial nepotism is as
American as apple pie and Thomas Kinkade paintings, the Bush Family has made it
Over the past two
decades, while Neil Bush has made impressive amounts of money in all sorts of
interesting business deals, he has always seemed like the kid who was caught
red-handed throwing chalk at the teacher, got sent to the principal and yet
returned to the classroom unscathed.
These days, with
the help of the Saudi Royal Family, a former junk bond dealer, a Russian
mobster, the Rev. Sum Myung Moon, and mom and dad, family string-pulling is
again paying off.
The Los Angeles
Times recently reported that Ignite! Learning, headed by Neil Bush
"and partly owned by his parents, is benefiting from Republican
connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged
students under the No Child Left Behind Act."
The company has
managed to "place its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans
to market internationally," the Times reported.
and a review of school district documents obtained under the Freedom of
Information Act," by the Los Angeles Times, "found that
educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite's products
were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law."
According to the Times,
"Most of Ignite's business has been obtained through sole-source contracts
without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing
A story about these
developments also appeared in a mid-October issue of BusinessWeek.
Headlined "No Bush Left Behind," the magazine reported that
"after five years of development and backing by investors like Saudi
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken, Neil
Bush aims to roll his high-tech teacher's helpers into classrooms nationwide.
He calls them 'curriculum on wheels,' or COWs. The $3,800 purple plug-and-play
computer/projectors display lively videos and cartoons: the XYZ Affair of the
late 1790s as operetta, the 1828 Tariff of Abominations as horror flick. The
device plays songs that are supposed to aid the memorization of the 22 rivers
of Texas or other facts that might crop up in state tests of 'essential
Ignite! Inc. has sold 1,700 COWs since 2005, mainly in Texas, where Bush lives
and his brother was once governor. In August, Houston's school board authorized
expenditures of up to $200,000 for COWs. The company expects 2006 revenue of $5
million. Says Bush about the impact of his name: 'I'm not saying it hasn't
opened any doors. It may have helped with some sales.' (In September, the U.S.
Education Dept.'s inspector general accused the agency of improperly favoring
at least five publishers, including The McGraw-Hill Companies, which owns BusinessWeek.
A company spokesman says: 'Our reading programs have been successful in
advancing student achievement for decades; that's why educators hold them in
such high regard.')"
According to the Los
Angeles Times, "The law provides federal funds to help school
districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance,
especially in reading and math." However, Bush's company "does not
offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until
Department of Education "does not monitor individual school district
expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states
are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said."
Tom Deliganis admitted that "some districts seem to feel OK" about
using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, "and others do not."
BusinessWeek also pointed out that the Washington Times
Foundation, "A foundation linked to the controversial Reverend Sun Myung
Moon has donated $1 million for a COWs research project in Washington
(D.C.)-area schools. In 2004 a Shanghai chip company agreed to give Bush stock
then valued at $2 million for showing up at board meetings. (Bush says he
received one-fifth of the shares.) In 1988 a Colorado savings and loan failed
while he served on its board, making him a prominent symbol of the S&L
scandal. Neil calls himself 'the most politically damaged of the [Bush] brothers.'"
The Rev. Moon,
Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and Milken aren't the only controversial
financial participants. Fugitive Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who has
been accused of having strong tries to the Chechen mafia, has been an investor
in Bush's Ignite! project since at least 2003.
And then, there's
mom and dad. The former first lady got herself in a bit of hot water when she
contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had
relocated to Texas and stipulated that her donation had to be used by local
schools for purchases of COWs.
2004," according to the Los Angeles Times, Neil and his mom
"were guests of honor at a $1,000-a-table fundraiser in Oklahoma City
organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District.
Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products."
Blankenship Pointer, the organizer of the event "said she planned the
event because district students were 'utilizing Ignite courseware and
experiencing great results [and].our students were thriving,' . . . Western
Heights school Supt. Joe Kitchens said the district eventually dropped . . . Ignite
because it disagreed with changes Ignite had made in its products. 'Our
interest waned in it,' he said."
In addition to
investors and high-powered international connections, Bush Family ties have
provided the sometimes star-crossed Neil with an always accessible escape route
from responsibility. Escape from prison was the operative term in 1988, when as
a director of the Denver, Colorado-based Silverado Savings and Loan Association
Bush presided over a monumental scam that actually cost taxpayers something
north of $1 billion. A Resolution Trust Corporation suit against Bush and other
officers of Silverado was settled in 1991 -- during the time his father was
president -- for $26.5 million. Bush was fined $50,000 and banned from future
however, to avoid going to the hoosegow. Instead, he left the state for the
greener pastures of Texas, and the opportunity to get back on the
It would no doubt
be difficult, even for the notoriously loyal Bush Family, to find anyone not
concerned by Neil's numerous character flaws; blemishes that oozed into the
public domain when Neil decided to divorce his wife of 23 years, Sharon Bush.
The story goes that Neil, in one of the more fetid "You've Got Mail"
moments in recent years, informed Sharon of his intentions in an e-mail.
The Bush's divorce
threatened to spill over into a tell-all book by his former wife because Neil
was being downright tightfisted with the financials. He ultimately loosened his
purse strings and Sharon's book was shelved.
public's right-to-know was advanced -- although some might argue that it was
set back -- when it was revealed in Bush's deposition that during numerous
business trips to Asia, Neil was a serial recipient of late-night visits by
anonymous prostitutes; assignations that he apparently didn't have to pay for.
In a post dated
October 6, Wonkette pointed to several of Neil Bush's unusual business
- "He earned $2 million from a
semiconductor company in China -- owned by the son of former Chinese
president Jiang Zemin -- proving once again the long-term value of Poppy's
years as U.S. ambassador to communist China."
- He started up "a new company
created just for him with $2.3 million from Bush Family confidant Louis
Marx. Neil burned through that money in two years and Apex Energy was no
- "Then he moved on to the Middle
East, using Poppy's oil-sheik connections to get millions from the royalty
and politicians of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Dubai and of course
- "Neil ran some shadowy Swiss
'ecumenical foundation' [the Foundation for Interreligious and
Intercultural Research and Dialogue] in the 1990s" with Joseph
Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
On January 2, 2004,
the Associated Press reported, in a story headlined "Neil Bush makes
one-day profit over $170,000," that Neil Bush "made at least $798,218
on three stock trades in [the Kopin Corp. of Taunton, Massachusetts] a small
U.S. high-tech company where he had been a consultant, according to his tax
returns, including $171,370 buying and selling the company's shares in a single
AP pointed out that
"Unlike the ordinary investor who buys at the market price . . . Bush
benefited from the fact that his stock purchase costs in some cases were
minimal because he got a bargain, paying $13 a share when he exercised stock
options that were part of his consulting compensation from Kopin. The company's
stock price was selling for many times that amount during much of the time Bush
was trading. The company granted him 20,000 stock options."
In an e-mail
responding to the Los Angeles Times story, Bush said that Ignite's
program had improved the test scores of economically disadvantaged children and
he denied that his family's political connections helped grow the company.
business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with
many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and
Africa," he wrote. "Not one of these associates by the way has ever
asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House
tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight
characterized the Times' piece as "entirely political."
Bill Berkowitz is a
longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column
Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories
and defeats of the American Right