Bush's Big Score

Bank on it: The Rangers sale will haunt the governor's run for president in 2000

Since Bush's profit may total 24 times his original $600,000 investment in the Rangers, it is fair to compare the Rangers deal with his ownership and management interest in Harken Energy. In 1990, while Bush's father was president, Harken, a tiny oil company with limited overseas experience, was chosen by the government of Bahrain to drill for oil. According to a 1994 story in the Dallas Morning News, six months after the Bahrain deal was announced, Bush sold his shares in Harken, making a $318,430 profit. But Bush ran afoul of federal regulators because he did not report the sale for eight months. And two months after Bush sold his shares, Harken reported a big quarterly loss, sending the stock price down by 60 percent. The Harken deal has been repeatedly scrutinized amid allegations that the Bahrainis were trying to buy influence within the Bush administration and that George W. Bush used insider information in deciding to sell his stock. Bush was never charged with any wrongdoing. But a pattern appears to be emerging, whereby Bush, because of his name and connections, gets unusually high returns on his investments.

4. Finally, and perhaps most important, why didn't Bush put his interest in the Rangers into a blind trust? According to financial disclosure filings at the Texas Ethics Commission, Bush transferred his stock portfolio and other assets into a blind trust in January 1995. But he didn't transfer his general partnership interest in the Rangers into the trust because, as he explained at a press conference at the governor's mansion last April, that would have amounted to a change in team ownership. A change of ownership "would have required a vote of the baseball owners," said Bush. "And it became unnecessary. We just didn't think it was necessary to get that vote. Secondly, I own it. I mean, there's no question I own it ... So it's not necessary."

But what if, instead of baseball, Bush were involved in say, a stock deal or an oil deal? And because of that deal, a Dallas gazillionaire paid the governor $14 million cash, with all of it going to the governor, not his blind trust? Few politicians would be able to weather their involvement in such a deal. Yet because Bush's deal involves baseball, all bets -- political and economic -- appear to be off, even though it could be argued that Hicks, by purchasing the Rangers, is also buying influence with the governor.

Under normal circumstances, Hicks would only be able to contribute to Bush's campaign account. But through the Rangers deal, Hicks -- a man with multiple businesses that could come under the scrutiny of state regulators -- will be stuffing millions of dollars directly into the pocket of the Texas governor. Imagine if former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards were involved in a deal like this. How long would it take before the newspapers launched an investigation?

For now, it appears that Bush will skate on all of these questions. None of the state's major dailies have delved into the blind trust issue. And few have reviewed the details of the Mathes case since the Hicks deal was announced. But -- and remember, you read it here first -- as soon as Bush announces his run for the presidency, Texas will be swarming with East Coast reporters trying to figure out how a sitting governor, the Man Who Would Be President, made so much money on this one deal.

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