The Hill's Blog Briefing Room reported that Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has called for an investigation “into allegations that President Barack Obama gave top donors special access to the White House,” stemming from a “report published in The Washington Times.” The Hill reported that Steele likened the practice to that which occurred under President Clinton but ignored that the Bush administration made heavy use of rewarding top political donors with overnight White House stays, policy briefings, trips to Camp David, “friend-raisers,” and galas.
Hill blog post hypes Steele's call for an investigation into “special access” for donors
From the October 28 post on The Hill's Blog Briefing Room:
Republicans called for an investigation into allegations that President Barack Obama gave top donors special access to the White House.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) demanded an investigation into a report published in The Washington Times that top donors to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had been rewarded with access to privileged White House tours, behind-the-scenes briefings and other perks.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele said that the White House had effectively become a “full service resort” during Obama's tenure, likening the alleged access to the benefits former President Bill Clinton had offered to some friends and top donors during his time in office.
“The seriousness of this issue requires an immediate investigation looking into the degree and details of fundraising efforts between the White House and DNC, whether there was any quid pro quo offered to donors, and the names of White House officials who were involved in such activities,” Steele said Wednesday in a statement.
He also said that the administration should release the names of any White House visitors who received any such access.
“The White House should also immediately release the names of donors who have accessed these perks or received special briefings from administration officials,” Steele said. “Candidate Obama pledged to clean up the muddy waters of Washington, but President Obama has jumped in head first.”
Drudge linked to The Hill blog post. On his website, Internet gossip Matt Drudge linked to The Hill's post with the headline, “RNC chairman demands investigation.” Above it, Drudge linked to the initial Washington Times report with the headline, “Washington Times: Top donors offered 'wide range of perks' since Obama took office.” From the Drudge Report:
Bush administration reportedly gave top GOP donors access to Cheney's energy task force
NY Times: 18 of energy industry's top donors to Republicans advised Cheney's energy task force. According to a March 1, 2002, New York Times report (accessed via Nexis), "[e]ighteen of the energy industry's top 25 financial contributors to the Republican Party advised Vice President Dick Cheney's national energy task force last year, according to interviews and election records." From the Times:
[I]nterviews and task force correspondence demonstrate an apparent correlation between large campaign contributions and access to Mr. Cheney's task force. Of the top 25 energy industry donors to the Republican Party before the November 2000 election, 18 corporations sent executives or representatives to meet with Mr. Cheney, the task force chairman, or members of the task force and its staff. The companies include the Enron Corporation, the Southern Company, the Exelon Corporation, BP, the TXU Corporation, FirstEnergy and Anadarko Petroleum.
Critics of the process said that President Bush and Mr. Cheney were quick to respond to executives from the energy sector not only because of campaign contributions but also because they share the philosophy of the oil patch, where both made fortunes.
“It's this bunch of guys in energy who say, 'Boo! We don't like this,' and the Bush administration says, 'Well, they elected us,' ” said Eric Schaeffer, who was chief of regulatory enforcement for the Environmental Protection Agency until his resignation on Wednesday. “This is a natural alliance. The administration didn't need a lot of persuading.”
Bush reportedly invited donors to White House, Camp David, fundraisers, galas, and briefings
Bush donors reportedly stayed in White House as overnight guests. A March 10, 2004, Associated Press article (accessed via Nexis) reported, “President Bush played host to dozens of overnight guests at the White House and Camp David last year, from world leaders to some of his most loyal supporters, including friends who double as campaign fund-raisers. ... Bush and first lady Laura Bush have invited at least 270 people to stay at the White House and at least the same number to overnight at the Camp David retreat since coming to Washington in January 2001, according to lists the White House provided The Associated Press.” From the article:
Some Bush guests stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom, a historic room that gained fame in the Clinton administration amid allegations that Democrats were rewarding big donors such as Hollywood celebrities Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand with accommodations there. In all, the Clinton family invited at least 938 overnight guests to the White House in their first four years.
Bush's criticism of the Clinton fund-raising scandal is one of the reasons the White House identifies guests. In a debate with Vice President Al Gore in October 2000, Bush said: “I believe they've moved that sign, 'The buck stops here,' from the Oval Office desk to 'The buck stops here' on the Lincoln Bedroom. And that's not good for the country.”
Bush's overnight guest roster is virtually free of the famous -- pro golfer Ben Crenshaw is the biggest name -- but not of campaign supporters.
At least nine of Bush's biggest fund-raisers appear on the latest list of White House overnight guests, covering June 2002 through December 2003, and-or on the Camp David list, which covers last year. They include:
- Mercer Reynolds, an Ohio financier, former Bush partner in the Texas Rangers baseball team and former ambassador to Switzerland. Reynolds is leading Bush's campaign fund-raising effort. He was a guest at the White House and the Camp David retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.
- Brad Freeman, a venture capitalist who is leading Bush's California fund-raising effort, has raised at least $200,000 for his re-election campaign and is also a major Republican Party fund-raiser. Freeman stayed at the White House.
- Roland Betts, who raised at least $100,000 for Bush in 2000, was a Bush fraternity brother at Yale and a Texas Rangers partner. Betts stayed at the White House and Camp David.
- William DeWitt, a Bush partner in the oil business and Texas Rangers who has raised at least $200,000 for Bush's re-election effort, stayed at the White House.
- James Francis, who headed the Bush campaign's 2000 team of $100,000-and-up volunteer fund-raisers and was a Bush appointee in Texas when Bush was governor. Francis was a White House guest.
- Joseph O'Neill, an oilman and childhood friend who introduced Bush to Laura Bush and raised at least $100,000 for each of Bush's presidential campaigns, stayed at the White House.
- Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and New York Gov. George Pataki, who each raised at least $200,000 for Bush's re-election campaign, were White House guests.
- James Langdon, who raised at least $100,000 for Bush, is a Washington attorney specializing in international oil and gas transactions. Langdon, whose clients include the Russian oil company Lukoil, is a member of Bush's foreign intelligence advisory board and served on Bush's 2000 presidential transition team on energy policy.
Bush reportedly invited donors to Camp David. According to a January 18, 2003, AP article (accessed via Nexis), “President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have played host to more than 240 guests at Camp David since moving to Washington, inviting a range of friends, family, Republican donors and Cabinet members to stay with them at the presidential retreat.” The article said that “Bush's guests also include about a half-dozen of his volunteer campaign fund-raisers, known as the 'pioneers.' ... Other Bush supporters making the overnight list include Gerry Parsky, a Los Angeles venture capitalist who served as chairman of Bush's 2000 election effort in California; and Dee Margo, a Bush donor, Texas insurance executive and leader of the Business Industry Political Action Committee whose wife, Adair, is a friend of Mrs. Bush's.”
AP: Bush hosted “friend-raisers” for donors to campaign, RNC. According to an April 26, 2002, AP article (accessed via Nexis), Bush had hosted nearly 20 fundraisers for donors -- which he dubbed “friend-raisers” -- including one for 250 donors in Crawford, Texas. The AP reported: “The 250 donors represented the Republican National Committee's elite, and they've already dug deep. The RNC invited its 'Regents,' donors who have contributed $250,000 over the last two years and who helped carry Bush to the White House. He is counting on them to open their wallets for Republican candidates this year and for his own re-election campaign in 2004.”
Washington Post: Top Bush donors met with advisers, Cabinet members in wake of fundraising dinners. A May 15, 2002, Washington Post article (accessed via Nexis) reported that “Republicans shattered the record for a single political fundraiser last night by collecting $33 million at a dinner featuring President Bush,” and “major donors received private briefings by Cabinet secretaries and top White House officials.” From the article:
The activities are part of a Republican fundraising frenzy less than six months before the advent of a law that will bar the political parties from accepting unlimited checks. Throughout Washington yesterday, major donors received private briefings by Cabinet secretaries and top White House officials.
Before tucking into their balsamic-glazed tenderloins of beef, top donors were invited to breakfast with Cheney's counselor, Mary Matalin, at the St. Regis Hotel, followed by a meeting with senators and House members. About 70 were rewarded with lunch with Cheney at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel. Other GOP high rollers heard from Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans; Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman; Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser; and White House political director Ken Mehlman.
Previous administrations also rewarded donors
George H.W. Bush offered perks to donors. In a July 6, 1995, AP article (accessed via Nexis) about Clinton aides defending his administration's “offering presidential dinners and trade junkets to major donors,” the AP noted that "[t]he Bush administration offered top donors contributing $92,000 special picture-taking sessions with President Bush, lunch with Vice President Dan Quayle, breakfast with GOP congressional leaders and an invitation to a reception with Cabinet members."
Wash. Times: “Obama-era perks still carry shades of the so-called 'donor maintenance' programs of past administrations.” The Washington Times article reported that “veteran Washington observers say the Obama-era perks still carry shades of the so-called 'donor maintenance' programs of past administrations, when Bill Clinton rewarded fundraisers with White House coffees and overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and George W. Bush invited 'Pioneers' to Camp David or his Texas ranch.” The nonprofit Texans for Public Justice reported that "[b]y the time of his reelection in November 2004, George W. Bush's campaign committee identified 548 individuals who had achieved Ranger (minimum of $200,000) or Pioneer (minimum of $100,000) status as elite fundraisers for the 2004 reelection effort."