Bush's Overnight Guests

British director Ken Loach accepts the Palme d'Or (the Gold Palm), the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, for his work on "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," at the 59th edition of the festival on May 28, 2006. The film stars Cillian Murphy as an Irish medical student who takes up arms against a reign of terror by British troops sent in to quell calls for independence.
AP Photo/Jeff Christensen
Eight fund-raisers who helped George W. Bush amass a record $70 million for his Republican presidential bid stayed at least one night in the Texas governor's mansion during the past year, records show.

The Bush campaign says the fund-raisers included a cousin, a fellow governor and six friends. It dismissed any suggestion that the Texas governor used overnight stays like President Clinton used the Lincoln Bedroom to reward big Democratic donors in the last election. At the time, Bush's father, former President George Bush, criticized Mr. Clinton for the White House sleepovers.

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

“The governor and Mrs. Bush always enjoy having family and longtime friends visit them at their home,” campaign spokesman Scott McClellan said, noting most of the eight also had stayed at the mansion prior to 1999 when Bush began his presidential bid.

Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, said there were similarities between Bush and President Clinton.

“It's the same concept. The only difference is one is in Austin and one is in Washington,” said Lewis, whose watchdog group first disclosed the Lincoln Bedroom visits in 1996. “The average citizen does not stay overnight in the governor's mansion.

"This basically means that the fat cats that give money to Governor Bush's campaign and help him raise millions of dollars are rewarded with the kinds of perks that virtually no other citizen can enjoy,” Lewis said.

Mr. Clinton's frequent use of the Lincoln Bedroom to reward big Democratic donors emerged as a key issue in the fund-raising scandal that exploded after his 1996 re-election.

“I wouldn't do it,” former president George Bush said after the Clinton controversy erupted. In the Bush administration, he said, “There was never any quid pro quo in terms of use of the White House, staying in the White House, anything to do with that, Air Force One, Camp David you name it.”

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.

The "pioneers" included Don Jordan, chairman of Reliant Energy; Brad Freeman of the investment firm Freeman, Spogli & Co.; Texas Public Safety Commissioner Jim Francis; and Indianapolis mayor Steve Goldsmith.

Other big fund-raisers who spent at least one night at Bush's gubernatorial mansion last year included Michigan Gov. John Engler; Craig Stapleton, a cousin and executive with Mars & McLellan, an insurance and investment firm; and 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 - former 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.

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