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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Overnight Guests Linked to Donations

Contributors: About half who stayed in governor's mansion gave money to him, watchdog's study finds. Aide denies comparison to Clinton incidents.

March 16, 2000|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Almost half of the scores of overnight visitors to the Texas governor's mansion since George W. Bush moved in have donated money to boost his political future and at least 16 of them have raised more than $100,000 each for his presidential campaign, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity, a public watchdog organization.

The center's analysis showed that 60 guests to the mansion donated or raised more than $2.2 million for Bush's campaigns.

The governor has publicly released the names of these visitors, and Wednesday his campaign defended the sleepovers.

"Friends and family are always welcome in Gov. and Mrs. Bush's home. They were welcome in his home before he was governor, they are welcome in his home while he is governor and they will be welcome in his home after he is governor," said Karen Hughes, communications director for the campaign.

When Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Bush's former opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, brought up the issue two weeks ago, Bush appeared to take affront.

"These are my friends, John. These are, these are my relatives," Bush said.

A spokesman for Vice President Al Gore said the governor has not done enough to explain the sleepovers.

"Of course he calls them his friends," said Gore campaign spokesman Douglas Hattaway. "George Bush never met a fat-cat contributor he didn't like.

"It raises yet another question for him to answer," Hattaway added.

The center researched the sleepovers because of the controversy over Democratic donors who stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom at the Clinton White House, and because campaign finance reform has become a prominent issue in the presidential campaign.

"We've taken a look for the sake of an even playing field," said Peter Eisner, managing director of the center. "We find similarities."

The Bush campaign rejected the comparison. It released a list describing the relationship each of the visitors has to the governor and his wife, Laura.

"Bill Clinton was offering people to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom as a quid pro quo for campaign contributions. People are staying in the governor's mansion because they are longtime friends of the governor," said Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker.

The center said more key Republican political figures began visiting the mansion in 1997 as the governor was considering a White House bid.

"The question is: Should the taxpayers of the state of Texas be paying for the creation of George W. Bush's run for the White House?" said Eisner.

The question of legality centers on the state's General Appropriations Act of 1997, which funded the mansion from August 1997 to August 1999. It prohibits the use of state funds to "in any way fund or support candidates for the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of government of the State of Texas or the government of the United States."

The center's report focused on visitors who have emerged as top advisors to Bush's campaign. Lawrence B. Lindsey, a former governor of the Federal Reserve under President Bush, is described by the Bush campaign as a "friend who advises Gov. Bush on economic policy."

While defending the sleepovers, Tucker did not deny that the governor discussed the possibility of a presidential bid and campaign issues with his guests.

"It would be odd if the presidential campaign didn't come up when the governor's friend Don Evans spent the night," Tucker said, referring to the financial chairman of Bush's campaign.

One of the governor's most frequent visitors was Bradford Freeman, a Los Angeles merchant banker who is the finance chairman of the Bush campaign in California and one of his most successful volunteer fund-raisers.

"The bottom line is, we've been friends for 20 years. I've stayed with them when they lived in Dallas. They stay at my house when they come to Los Angeles.

"It doesn't matter if he's a governor running for president," Freeman said.

Freeman said that there is no comparison between the nights he spent in the governor's mansion in Austin and the donors who were rewarded with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom.

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