Jan. 18) When George W. Bush first embarked
on a deal to buy the Texas Rangers professional
baseball team in 1988, he already had his eye
on the governor's mansion in Austin. But he
knew that to have a shot at winning, he would
need better credentials than a string of unsuccessful
oil companies and a failed bid for a seat in
the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1989 he
told Time magazine, "My biggest
liability in Texas is the question, 'What's
the boy ever done?' He could be riding on Daddy's
his father's connections were instrumental in
helping Bush overcome that perception. Back
in 1973, when the senior George Bush was the
chairman of the Republican National Committee,
Bush befriended one of father's assistants,
Karl Rove. Rove cut his teeth alongside the
senior Bush's chief political strategist, Lee
Atwater. Rove would become George W.'s own Atwater,
helping to run his 1978 bid for Congress and
laying the groundwork for his 1994 run for governor.
As the Rangers deal got under way, Rove told
Bush that baseball was his ticket to the big
time. žIt gives him . . . exposure and gives
him something that will be easily recalled by
people," Rove said.
calculation turned out to be right on the money.
all began in fall of 1988, when William O. DeWitt
Jr., Bush's partner in a Texas oil-and-gas exploration
company called Spectrum 7, called to let him
know that Eddie Chiles, the owner of the Texas
Rangers, was looking for a buyer.
Presses for Deal
a family friend who called Bush "Young
Pup" when he was a kid, was eager to sell to
Bush. And so Bush and DeWitt quickly assembled
a team of investors . They hit a snag when Peter
Ueberroth, then commissioner of Major League
Baseball, told them he wouldn't approve the
sale without more investors from Texas. Ueberroth
believed that local owners would be less likely
to relocate the team. The commissioner, a GOP
donor himself, wanted the deal approved before
his term expired at the end of 1989, and so
he and then-American League president Bobby
Brown took it on themselves to line up Fort
Worth financier Richard E. Rainwater.
and Bush weren't exactly strangers. Rainwater
was a contributor to his father's presidential
campaigns and, later, an overnight guest in
the Bush White House. Until 1986, he was the
chief money manager for the Bass brothers, Fort
Worth billionaires who financed drilling in
Bahrain by the Harken Energy Corp., a company
that in 1986 had bought out Spectrum 7, one
of Bush's oil companies.
1988, Rainwater was managing his own fortune.
He agreed to put money in the Rangers, but only
if his trusted associate, Edward "Rusty"
Rose, was installed as general managing partner
along with Bush.
this arrangement in place, Bush and his partners
bought the team from Chiles on April 21, 1989,
for $86 million. To scrape together his $500,000
stake in the Rangers, Bush borrowed the money
from a bank in Midland where he once was a director.
He owned 1.8 percent of the Rangers. (He later
invested an additional $106,302).
made up for his minor stake by taking more than
his share of credit for bringing the owners
together. "I wasn't going to let this deal
fail," he said last year. "I wanted to
put together the group. I was tenacious."
close to the deal paint a different picture.
W. Bush deserves great credit for the development
of the franchise," Ueberroth said. "However,
the bringing together of the buying group was
the result of Richard Rainwater, Rusty Rose,
Dr. Bobby Brown, and the commissioner."
Gets Another 10 Percent
Bush's partners rewarded him by upping his ownership
stake in the Rangers, giving him another 10
percent of the team.
had a well-known name, and that created interest
in the franchise," Tom Schieffer, the Rangers'
former president, said last year. It gave us
a little celebrity."
parked in a front-row seat by the dugout, with
his feet up and a bag of peanuts perched in
his lap, Bush put a congenial face on a crooked
deal, at the heart of which lay a complicated
they bought the team, the Rangers were playing
in an old minor-league stadium. It didn't have
the fancy sky boxes and other amenities that
helped make other franchises much more profitable.
As a result, the team couldn't compete with
other big-city teams for good players. But the
new owners weren't willing to finance the construction
of a new ballpark. They decided to hit up taxpayers
for the money.
the new owners threatened to move the team out
of Arlington, Texas, sending local officials
scurrying to put together a deal they couldn't
refuse. Under the resulting agreement, the taxpayers
of Arlington would raise $135 million, the bulk
of the cost of construction, through a hike
in sales taxes. During a campaign to sell the
sales tax increase to Arlington voters, then-mayor
said the team owners would put $50 million of
their own money into the deal up front. It didn't
quite work out that way; the owners raised a
hefty portion of their down payment from fans,
through a one dollar surcharge on tickets.
Tax Hike Approved
city spent $150,000 on an advertising campaign
to persuade voters. Opponents of the deal couldn't
compete with glossy brochures, telemarketing
calls, and a "Hands Around Arlington Day."
On Jan. 19, 1991, citizens of Arlington voted
two-to-one to approve a sales-tax increase dedicated
to building the new park.
the sales-tax revenue, state tax exemptions
and other financial incentives, Texas taxpayers
handed the privately owned Rangers more than
$200 million in public subsidies. Taxpayers
didn't get a return from the stadium's surging
new revenues, either. The profits went almost
exclusively to the team's already wealthy owners.
stadium's lease is a case in point. Unlike an
apartment tenant, the rent that the team's owners
pay is applied toward purchasing the stadium.
The maximum yearly rent and maintenence fees
for the Rangers are $5 million; the total purchase
price for the Ballpark at Arlington is $60 million.
Thus, after 12 years the owners will have bought
the stadium for less than half of what taxpayers
spent on it.
as important as the cash, however, was the cachet
that came with the deal's success. The Ballpark
at Arlington finally opened in April 1994, just
as Bush was running for governor. He touted
the new stadium as a win-win proposition for
taxpayers and the team. "Am I going to
benefit off it financially?" he asked reporters.
He answered his own question: "I hope so."
Four years later, everyone would know by how
from The Buying of the President 2000
(Avon), by Charles Lewis and the Center for
Public Integrity. Annys Shin contributed substantially
to this report while a senior associate with