Bush arrives to criticism for defending Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican who set off a firestorm last week when he signed a bill giving businesses the right to refuse services on religious grounds.

Share story

SAN FRANCISCO — As a growing roster of Bay Area tech firms and CEOs joins the protest against Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who arrives in the Bay Area on Wednesday for fundraisers — is feeling increasing heat for defending the legislation.

Bush plans on banking big money for his Right to Rise Super PAC as he prepares for a likely 2016 White House bid. The trip is his second to the Bay Area this year.

Bush arrives to criticism for defending Indiana’s GOP Gov. Mike Pence, who set off a firestorm last week by signing a bill giving businesses the right to refuse services on religious grounds. Bay Area businesses, including Twitter, Yelp, Square and Levi Strauss & Co., and CEOs Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com and Tim Cook of Apple, have come out against the law or pulled business from Indiana.

Critics said the law opens the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians, but Bush argued this week that Pence did “the right thing,” insisting that “once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”

California Democratic strategist Sean Clegg said it looks like Bush’s two-day foray here — which he notes starts on April Fools’ Day — may turn into a quest for “fool’s gold.”

“Jeb Bush said famously that being called a centrist ‘made him break out in a rash,’ ” Clegg said, “but Bay Area donors are positively going to get hives when they find out about his extreme record denying LGBT Floridians their civil rights.”

Bush’s representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Bush starts his trip Wednesday at a lunch at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto.

The A-list GOP host-committee event includes Bill Draper, the former president and chair of the Export-Import Bank of the United States and father of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, sponsor of the controversial “Six Californias” initiative to split up the state. The Washington Post reported that others include Sequoia Capital partner and former ambassador to Portugal Tom Stephenson, as well as San Francisco billionaire Bill Oberndorf, the co-founder and chairman emeritus of the board of Alliance for School Choice.

On Thursday, Bush is to stop in San Francisco for a “luncheon and discussion” hosted by Oberndorf and his wife, Susan, as well as Marin-based venture capitalist Jay Kern, who was managing director of Reynolds, DeWitt & Co., and his wife, Katie.

Sources say Bush is planning other private meet-and-greets in the area to raise money via the Super PAC, which allows him to bank funds without reporting on those donors until June.