It has been more than a decade since Neil Bush, the president’s younger brother, helped run a Colorado savings and loan into the ground, costing taxpayers $1 billion. In 1991, federal regulators restricted Neil’s banking activities and fined him $50,000 — but his family connections rescued him, as Republican supporters contributed to a special fund to defray his legal costs. Before long, Neil was once again living off the Bush name, fl ying to Kuwait with his father to sell antipollution equipment to oil contractors.
Now, with another Bush in the White House, Neil is back. During the presidential campaign he launched Ignite, an Internet start-up company poised to benefit from federal plans to pump more money into public education — a move his brother fully supports. With Neil at the helm, Ignite quickly raised $7.1 million from 53 investors to produce educational software designed to enable teachers and administrators to track student learning through Web-based lessons. Public schools in Oklahoma are already looking at the system — but those involved say that schools will need more public money to pay for it.
That’s where George W. comes in. The federal government currently picks up more than 25 percent of the cost of providing schools with technology, and industry lobbyists want President Bush to increase the present subsidy of $1.5 billion — paying for research to help private companies and providing grants to purchase technology services for schools. The Bush administration has responded favorably to the push for privatization. As Education Secretary Rod Paige said in February, “The market forces are going to be there.”
Neil has drawn on his family connections to position himself at the forefront of those market forces. Ignite declined a request for an interview, but it has loaded its advisory committees with Bush loyalists, assuring the company a sympathetic ear in Washington. According to the company, its big-name consultants include Bill Brock, a former senator from Tennessee who chaired the Republican National Committee; Bob Stearns, a Houston investor appointed to a Texas technology board by George W.; Peter Su, a former campaign adviser of the president, and two executives from Bessemer Trust, an exclusive investment firm that manages a portfolio for Neil’s dad.
The family name has also given Neil instant status within the industry. In March, he was invited to take center stage at the annual convention of the Software & Information Industry Association, the lead lobbying organization for online education. Mark Schneiderman, the group’s director of federal education policy, says the association had a “combination of reasons” for asking Neil to speak. “One of them,” he says, “is that his brother is president.”