Texas Taxpayer Funds Used to Solicit $2.2 Million for Bush Campaign
Sixty of George W. Bush's overnight guests at the Texas Governor's Mansion have collectively given and raised more than $2.2 million to further Bush's political career. At least 15 of Bush's guests are members of Bush's elite team of presidential fund-raisers, the $100,000-plus "Pioneers," according to the full list of overnight guests from January 1995 through February 2000.As Bush's presidential ambitions grew, so did the frequency of overnight stays by political allies and fund-raisers. Beginning in mid-1997, the mansion came to act as a gathering place and springboard for the nascent 2000 campaign, helping to rope in key supporters early in the presidential cycle.But the overnight visits to the taxpayer-supported mansion might have violated Texas law. The legislation that appropriated the mansion's funds from mid-1997 to mid-1999 directly prohibited the use of state resources to support candidates for elected state or national office.Many of the overnight guests who stayed at the Governor's Mansion during that period, most for the first time, were national politicians and fund-raisers who would later become key advisers in Bush's presidential campaign."It's explicit that you can't use state resources to influence an election," said Steve Collins, general counsel of the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan office within the Texas Legislature that assists lawmakers with bill-drafting and research. Collins said the issue rests on "whether [the overnight visits] were intended to influence the outcome of any election."For 1998 and 1999, the Texas Legislature appropriated approximately $350,000 per year to the maintenance and operation of the Governor's Mansion. The mansion administrator, Anne DeBois, confirmed that state employees, on salaried time, are responsible for maintaining the rooms in which overnight guests stay.The State of Texas General Appropriations Act of 1997, which appropriated taxpayer funds to the mansion from August 1997 through August 1999, contained a clause specifying that:"No funds under the control of any state agency or institution, including but not limited to state appropriated funds, may be used directly or indirectly to hire employees or 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."Bush Defended VisitsBush has vigorously defended the overnight visits. When confronted by rival John McCain about the issue on March 2, Bush responded by saying, "These are my friends, John. These are, these are my relatives."Bush has also taken the offensive, accusing Vice President Al Gore of being a hypocrite on campaign finance reform by reminding voters of the Democratic Party scandals of 1996. "Al Gore is the one who has rewarded his special interest contributors with overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, with seats on [then-Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown's] trade mission, as a quid pro quo ... " said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer on March 12.Yet almost half the governor's guests at the mansion have given money to Bush's campaign. Furthermore, beginning in mid-1997, political figures and big money fund-raisers who would play major roles in his presidential campaign began to stay over, a clear break from the previous two years, when the guests indeed were predominantly friends and family.An analysis of the overnight records from January 1995 through February 2000 shows that Bush's march toward the GOP nomination began as early as 1997, when for the first time Republican political leaders and fund-raisers began to visit overnight.Although Bush hosted political figures Ralph Reed, then executive director of the Christian Coalition, and presidential candidate Steve Forbes in 1996, the transition from guests comprising friends and family to being presidential-campaign advisers began in earnest in June 1997, when Wall Street investor Robert Woods "Woody" Johnson stayed overnight at the mansion. Johnson, along with Bush's cousin Jonathan Bush, has been the point man for the candidate's Wall Street fund-raising; both are Pioneers. Johnson has donated more than $23,000 to Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.Governors of Fed, New York State ArriveLawrence B. Lindsey soon followed in October 1997. Lindsey, a former governor of the Federal Reserve under President Bush, is now the lead economic adviser to the Bush campaign. A spokeswoman for Lindsey said that Governor Bush invited Lindsey down to Austin after reading one of his books. New York Gov. George Pataki arrived a month later, staying at the mansion in November 1997.Pataki was an early Bush supporter and helped secure the Texas governor's decisive win in New York on Super Tuesday, March 7, the fallout from which effectively ended Sen. McCain's insurgent campaign for the GOP nomination. Also staying over at the mansion in November 1997 were longtime Bush friends and fund-raisers Brad Freeman and Craig Stapleton.A month later, in December 1997, Stephen Goldsmith, longtime friend, popular Republican mayor of Indianapolis, and future head of the Bush campaign's domestic policy advisory group, stayed overnight. His visit that month coincided with those of Stapleton (again), venerable Washington speechwriter Landon Parvin, and frequent mansion guest Don Evans, Bush's perennial fund-raiser and presidential campaign finance chair.The records suggest that with the infrastructure of a national campaign in place, Bush's next step was to bring in additional Republican figures to gauge his party support nationally. In March 1998, Sen. Charles "Chuck" Hagel, R-Neb., visited the mansion; Hagel would later become a national chair of McCain's campaign. In April, the only guest at the mansion was Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who later endorsed Bush. A spokesman in Ashcroft's office said that the senator is a longtime friend of the Bush family, and argued that the visit might have had more to do more with Ashcroft's ambitions than Bush's. Ashcroft was at the time considering his own run for the presidency.In May, Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio; lobbyist and former Iowa Rep. Tom Tauke and his wife, Beverly; and Wall Street mogul Ted Forstmann all visited the governor. Kasich ran briefly against Bush in early 1999, but pulled out of the race to endorse Bush; he is rumored to be a possible Bush vice presidential choice. His office did not return calls about this story.Wall Streeters, LobbyistsTauke heads the Washington lobbying shop for Bell Atlantic, a regional phone company with a myriad of regulatory issues before the Congress and federal agencies. He is also a political strategist for the Bush presidential campaign, and was offered the job of campaign manager, which he turned down to remain at Bell Atlantic. Tauke was traveling and unavailable for comment, but a spokeswoman noted that he has been friends with Bush for more than 20 years.Forstmann, who has given $20,000 over Bush's career, is a Wall Street leveraged-buyout expert who supported Forbes' 1996 run for the presidency, and whose brother and business partner, Nicholas, backed Forbes in the 2000 race. Forstmann's pet public-policy project is alternative educational programs; he helps fund the Children's Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to children from low-income families so they can attend private schools.Bush has been a strong proponent of vouchers and alternative schooling. He supports giving federal education funds from failing public schools back to families for use at the private schools and tutoring programs of their choice. Bush was also a speaker at Forstmann's exclusive "Forstmann Conference" in September 1999, where the guest list included such luminaries as actor Sean Connery, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, former South African president Nelson Mandela, media titan Rupert Murdoch and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. A spokeswoman in Forstmann's office said that Bush invited Forstmann to Austin in May 1998 to discuss education policy.A couple of months later, in July 1998, George Shultz and his wife, Charlotte, slept over at the Governor's Mansion. Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, is a top foreign policy adviser to Bush's campaign. Fellow foreign policy adviser and Reagan-Bush-era veteran Condoleeza Rice followed Shultz in December. In between Shultz and Rice, money men Craig Stapleton, Brad Freeman and Jim Francis (chairman of the Pioneers) spent a combined 13 nights at the mansion.In February 1999, Stephen Goldsmith returned with his wife, Margaret, and was followed later that month by Dick Cheney, another Bush 2000 foreign policy adviser. Cheney had been President Bush's secretary of defense, and is now CEO of Halliburton Co., a $9 billion Dallas-based oil services firm. William Bennett, the elder Bush's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Reagan's secretary of education, arrived in late March with his wife, Elaine, for a visit. Since the Bennetts were in town for a conference at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Bennett's spokesman said, they were invited by their friends the Bushes to spend the night.By April 1999, Bush's fund-raising machine, first hatched at the Governor's Mansion in 1997, was in full swing. That month, his money men upped their visits to Bush; Evans spent three nights, Freeman four, with Stapleton joining Bush on April 27.The increased visits continued through May, with Stapleton spending four nights, Evans two, and Condoleeza Rice the night of May 3. Fellow foreign policy guru Shultz followed in June.For a complete list of overnight guests at the Texas Governor's Mansion (January 1995 - February 2000), as provided by the general counsel of the Office of the Governor, visit http://www.public-i.org/story_03_031500.htm.Nathaniel Heller is the James R. Soles Fellow at the Center for Public Integrity.