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THE NATION

A Barbecue for Bush's Benefactors

April 27, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRAWFORD, Texas — In the political equivalent of bringing flowers to a generous friend after spending, oh, say $185 million of the friend's money, President Bush thanked the biggest contributors to his presidential campaign Friday.

And he didn't ask them for a cent.

In jeans, brown cowboy boots and a tan jacket with his name--and the job title earned with those contributions--stitched on the front, Bush greeted more than 200 of the Republican Party's most generous contributors, known as the Regents.

The Regents each contributed at least $250,000 over the last two years--and, presumably, can be counted upon to keep giving if Bush seeks reelection in 2004.

Among the guests reportedly at the event were Fort Worth financier Lee Brown, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks. The White House did not allow the media to attend and would not provide a guest list.

The luncheon--barbecued brisket, sausage, cole slaw, potato salad and pies--was held at a neighbor's home, Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, about 3 1/2 miles away from Bush's ranch.

Bush called the party a "friend-raiser." In the political world, the more common term is "donor maintenance," as politicians make sure their most generous backers know they are appreciated.

"It's a nice, casual setting to say hello to people, and I'm looking forward to it," the president said.

But a "friend-raiser?"

"It's just a kind of a cute way of saying I'm going to go over and see people and thank them for being a part of my campaign," he said before the party. "And they actually get to do this for free."

That's a change for Bush, who rejected taxpayer funding of his presidential campaign and went on to raise $185 million for the 2000 race. This year, he is attending fund-raising parties for other candidates and the Republican Party at a pace of about $1 million a week. He is planning to attend two Monday--one in Los Angeles--and another in San Jose on Tuesday.

As Bush's motorcade arrived Friday, he was greeted by two cowboys on horseback. One carried an American flag, the other the flag of Texas.

His trip was barely 10 minutes, but the journey was longer for others. They arrived from the airport in Waco, about 30 miles away, in a fleet of small buses. Many had flown in aboard private jets.

Today, the president is attending the Houston wedding of his former personal aide at the White House, Logan Walters.

"Interestingly enough, Logan is marrying the niece of Don Evans' wife," Bush said. Evans, the Commerce secretary, is a boyhood friend of the president.

As he sought to walk reporters through the West Texas genealogy, he added: "Logan's bride's father was the Boy Scout in my Cub Scout den. Now, you can chew on that for the rest of the day."

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