Texas governor's mansion   The Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo)

Eight Bush fund-raisers spent nights at Texas governor's mansion

By Jonathan D. Salant, Associated Press, 03/01/00

WASHINGTON -- Eight of the 31 overnight guests at the Texas governor's mansion last year helped Gov. George W. Bush raise a record $70 million for his Republican presidential bid, documents show.

Bush's chief rival, Sen. John McCain, likened the practice to President Clinton's use of the Lincoln Bedroom to house big givers to the Democratic Party.

"Bill Clinton only charges $10,000 a night. He charges $100,000 a night," McCain said on his campaign bus Wednesday, heading to a rally in Los Angeles. "That's remarkable. This is the sort of thing I've been railing about for two years."

Bush campaign officials said the guests were a cousin, a governor, a former college roommate, and other longtime friends. That they also helped raise money for the Bush campaign had nothing to do with their invitations to spend the night in Austin, Texas, the officials said.

"The governor and Mrs. Bush always enjoy having family and longtime friends visit them at their home," campaign spokesman Scott McClellan said. Many of the eight visitors also had stayed at the mansion before 1999, when Bush began his presidential bid, he said.

But McCain campaign officials said Bush's explanations were similar to those used by Clinton in defending the use of the White House.

"This is just one more example of an advantage we as Republicans would lose if Governor Bush were to become our nominee," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said.

"George W. Bush would be unable to raise the issue of selling the Lincoln Bedroom" and cite other fund-raising scandals involving the Clinton-Gore administration if he were the nominee against Vice President Al Gore, Davis said.

A watchdog group said the practice runs counter to Bush's claim that he is a "reformer with results."

"This belies the notion that he is a reformer who has done anything to change access to government by big-monied special interests," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which often has been critical of Bush.

The donors, who included Bush's chief fund-raiser and seven "pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 each, were among the 31 overnight visitors that Bush entertained at mansion since Jan. 1, 1999, according to records released at the request of The Associated Press.

Don Evans, a close friend of the Texas governor and the national finance chairman of his presidential campaign, stayed at the mansion seven times last year.

Seven other guests were members of Bush's "pioneers," a designation meaning they raised at least $100,000 each:

-Don Jordan, chairman of Reliant Energy.

-Brad Freeman of the investment firm Freeman, Spogli & Co.

-Texas Public Safety Commissioner Jim Francis.

-Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

-Michigan Gov. John Engler.

-Craig Stapleton, a cousin and executive with Marsh & McLellan, an insurance and investment firm.

-Roland Betts of the development firm Chelsea Piers Management. Betts was Bush's college roommate at Yale University.

Beyond fund-raisers, the Texas governor's overnight guests included an assortment of family friends, advisers and relatives.

Three of his father's former colleagues -- ex-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett -- spent a night. All three have offered advice to Bush's presidential bid.

In addition, Bush's mother-in-law, Jenna Welch, was a frequent visitor, the records show.

Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, said he saw plenty of similarities between what Clinton did and what Bush is doing.

"It's the same phenomenon of rewarding donors by exclusivity and proximity to the governor and potential next president," said Lewis, whose watchdog group first disclosed the Lincoln Bedroom visits in 1996. "It just shows you that the rich and powerful have privileges that no one else has in this supposed democracy."

Except for a few close family friends, Gore has not had any overnight guests at his official residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Associated Press Writer Michael Holmes in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.