Bush friends, donors enjoy good night's sleep
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- Dozens of friends, relatives and backers of President Bush have slept overnight at the White House, a practice widely criticized by Republicans when Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office.
The Associated Press reports that the Bushes have hosted about 160 guests, including at least six of the president's biggest donors or fund-raisers -- known as "pioneers" -- and their families. Each raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign.
The Associated Press reports the list included Roland Betts, a Yale classmates of Bush's and a former partner in the Texas Rangers baseball team; venture capitalist and Republican National Committee fund-raiser Brad Freeman; Teel Bivins, a Texas rancher and state senator; Boston businessman Joe O'Donnell; and Joe O'Neill, a Midland, Texas oilman and childhood friend of the president.
Republicans slammed Clinton and the Democrats when it was learned that some top donors and fund-raisers, including stars like Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand, stayed overnight at the White House, particularly in the Lincoln Bedroom.
But administration officials told CNN there is a difference: the Bushes' guests were all close friends or family members, and not just major donors and members of the Hollywood elite.
The Bush guest list has included country singer Larry Gatlin, pro golfer Ben Crenshaw, Michigan Gov. John Engler and songwriter Kinky Friedman.
Several of the Republican guests also were top-level donors, fund-raisers and entertainers. Administration officials said they did not know if any of the guests slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Larry Noble, executive director of the campaign-finance watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, told The Associated Press that it "matters symbolically" if the Bushes have let contributors stay in the Lincoln Bedroom.
"The Republicans made a very big deal about it during the Clinton administration," Noble said. "In this whole business, the whole issue is perception."
The White House has been closed to public tours since the September 11 terror attacks -- except for school, youth, military and veterans group tours arranged by a member of Congress.
"The American public's access to the White House has been severely restricted," Noble said. "So you may have an increased perception problem if in fact large contributors are getting access to the White House."
The president is vacationing at his Texas ranch.
-- CNN White House Corespondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report
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