The White House released last week a list of guests who stayed overnight in the presidential mansion since George W. Bush’s inauguration in January 2001. The list, according to the Associated Press, includes six “pioneers”—the Bush supporters who raised more than $100,000 for his presidential campaign. Ethical questions about hosting donors and friends in official residences, funded by taxpayers, first came to the fore in 1996, when the Center for Public Integrity obtained a list of White House guests. It was found that Democratic Party donors and fundraisers, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, were among the guests who spent nights at the historic Lincoln bedroom. Between 1993 and 1996, “more than 75 Democratic contributors and fundraisers spent the night in the White House—mostly in the Lincoln or Queen’s Bedrooms—as guests of President and Mrs. Clinton,” we reported in our 1996 Center study “Fat Cat Hotel.”
Clinton’s renting of the White House to donors and fundraisers raised a storm of criticism, and was an issue in both the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. During the first debate with then-Vice President Al Gore, candidate George W. Bush quipped, “I think they’ve moved that line the buck stops here’ from the Oval Office to … the Lincoln Bedroom.”
Despite the criticism that surrounded the Lincoln bedroom sleepovers, such overnight sojourns became a feature of the Clinton presidency. A list released in September 2000 showed that a substantial number of donors to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate race were among the 404 guests that stayed overnight at the White House and Camp David. In March 2000, we revealed that 60 of then-Governor George W. Bush’s overnight guests at the Texas Governor’s Mansion had donated and raised more than $2.2 million to Bush. Fifteen of those guests were “Pioneers,” according to the full list of overnight guests from January 1995 through February 2000. Three of the “pioneers” who were overnight guests at the Governor’s mansion also figure on the latest White House guest list. They are Roland Betts, Brad Freeman and Joe O’Neill.
The Center’s attempts to obtain a list of overnight guests at the official residence of Gore, Bush’s rival in the 2000 presidential election, were not successful. Gore’s office refused to release the names of his overnight guests, insisting that no list existed and all guests were “close friends and relatives from Tennessee.” The vice president’s office also refused to compile such information, citing the White House’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Nevertheless, the Gore campaign strongly criticized Bush after the Center released its report on sleepover guests in Austin in March 2000.