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Keeper of the Inn Also Keeper of GOP Flame

Duane Roberts, owner of the Mission Inn in Riverside, is a longtime contributor. Bush appears in the city to raise funds this week.

October 14, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

When President Bush attends a reelection fund-raiser in Riverside on Wednesday, he will be a guest of one of the Inland Empire's biggest Republican benefactors.

The fund-raiser is co-hosted by Duane Roberts, a Republican Party stalwart and owner of the Mission Inn, a 100-year-old landmark that has played host to several GOP presidents. Roberts, a wealthy entrepreneur, has given nearly $1.2 million in campaign contributions, primarily to GOP candidates, including the current president and his father, since 1999.

The Mission Inn, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a California Historic Landmark, is also the meeting site for several local Republican groups, including the county's central committee.

"The Mission Inn has always been referred to as the ground zero for the Republican Party," said Kevin Jeffries, chairman of the Riverside County Republican Party.

The hotel's role as a Republican Party homestead dates back decades. It is where the Nixons were married and Ron and Nancy Reagan stayed on their honeymoon. The Presidential Lounge, a room resembling an old-fashioned gentlemen's club, is adorned with paintings of every president who has visited the inn. All but one are Republicans: John F. Kennedy visited when he was a 25-year-old participant in a peace conference.

The trip is Bush's first to Riverside since his election. During the 1999 campaign, Bush visited the inn for a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser attended by about 250 people.

Wednesday's fund-raiser at the nearby Riverside Convention Center is expected to attract nearly 800 supporters. Tickets are $1,000 and $2,000 per seat. On Thursday, Bush will make a speech on terrorism, Iraq and the economy at the Radisson Hotel and Convention Center in San Bernardino.

The Mission Inn and Riverside's convention center are ideal fund-raising sites for the GOP because they are within an hour's drive of Republican strongholds in Orange County and Palm Springs, said Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at UC Riverside.

"We are like the ATM for the Republican party," he said of Riverside.

The county's Lincoln Club, the Republican party's central committee and the Republican Women's Federated Club all meet at the Mission Inn.

Roberts, who grew up in Riverside and lives in Laguna Beach, made his fortune in the 1970s, selling mass-produced frozen burritos. He later invested in real estate, primarily apartment buildings, and bought the 320,000-square-foot hotel for $15.6 million. The hotel, in the heart of downtown Riverside, has 239 rooms, including 28 suites.

Roberts has donated generously to local and national Republican candidates. He and his wife, Kelly, have contributed $12,000 to the campaigns of President George H.W. Bush and his son, according to federal campaign statements.

"Duane Roberts is a longtime supporter of President Bush, and we appreciate his efforts in the state on behalf of the campaign," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the president's reelection campaign.

Since 1999, Roberts has also contributed nearly $500,000 to Republican congressional candidates from Georgia to Indiana, federal campaign statements show.

In the past four years, Roberts has also donated more than $600,000 to state and local candidates, including the gubernatorial campaigns of Bill Simon and Richard Riordan.

During the recall campaign, Roberts donated the maximum allowable amount, $21,200, to the campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to campaign statements.

"He usually gets behind people who share his real strong dedication to the Republican Party," Jeffries said.

But Roberts does not limit his generosity to GOP members.

In 2001, he gave $3,500 to Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, a Democrat.

Loveridge said he has had a good working relationship with Roberts, particularly in matters involving plans to improve the business climate in downtown Riverside.

"The questions he asks are not about being Republican or Democrat but questions about how to make the inn work and downtown work," Loveridge said.

Although the Mission Inn is known for its ties to Republican leaders, its guests have included prominent Democrats.

This year, Roberts opened the 1,700-square-foot Keeper of the Inn suite, the hotel's most expensive, reportedly going for $1,400 to $1,600 a night.

The first guests to stay there were Democratic Party patron Barbra Streisand and her husband, James Brolin.

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