The Pimping of the Presidents

Remember the Lincoln Bedroom -- that place in the White House which President Clinton supposedly turned into a den of scandal and disrepute with sleep-overs by soft-money contributors?

In the late 1990s Clinton's Lincoln BR guestlist ranked just behind Monica and Whitewater as a target of Republican indignation. Here's a small sampling from the GOP-administration- in-waiting:

"I believe they've moved that sign, 'The Buck Stops Here,' from the Oval Office desk to the Lincoln Bedroom, and that's not right."
--George W. Bush, first presidential debate, October 3, 2000

"We were super-cautious in the aftermath of Watergate. We didn't need an accusation we weren't playing by the rules."
--Dick Cheney, contrasting Clinton fundraising practices with Ford's, October 3, 1997

"The whole series of revelations about the way this administration has managed the subject of campaign financing paints a picture that is totally different than the picture I knew as part of the Ford administration. It is totally foreign - and I don't mean to use the pun."
--Donald Rumsfeld, October 3, 1997


If the feigned outrage of these three fellows about Clinton's soiling of the Lincoln Bedroom (which President Nixon had wiretapped) is a bit hard to swallow, it's important to remember that Clinton's pay-to-play racket was indeed scandalous. As Chuck Lewis of the excellent Center for Public Integrity -- which broke the Lincoln Bedroom scandal -- wrote:

During the Clinton presidency ... to an unprecedented extent, major Democratic Party donors were serviced in many ways, including overnight stays in the White House "Lincoln Bedroom" and Camp David, but also trips on Air Force One, Marine One, Air Force Two and Marine Two (the latter two are the Vice President's aircraft) more than 300 times!

But of course, it was only a matter of time before Bush's even deeper debt to corporate America translated into plush accomodations for GOP backers. As the Associated Press revealed in 2004,

"President Bush opened the White House and Camp David to dozens of overnight guests last year, including foreign dignitaries, family friends and at least nine of his biggest campaign fund-raisers, documents show ... In all, Bush and first lady Laura Bush have invited at least 270 people to stay at the White House and at least the same number to overnight at the Camp David retreat since moving to Washington in January 2001."

And now, Lou Dubose of the Texas Observer, in a piece entitled "The Pimping of the President," describes the cash-and-carry politics executed by GOP insiders Jack Abramoff (tied to the Tom DeLay scandal) and Grover Norquist:

[Jack] Abramoff was so closely tied to the Bush Administration that he could, and did, charge two of his clients $25,000 for a White House lunch date and a meeting with the President. From the same two clients he took to the White House in May 2001, Abramoff also obtained $2.5 million in contributions for a non-profit foundation he and his wife operated... It is ... a regular ATR [Grover Norquist's outfit] practice to invite state legislators and tribal leaders who have supported ATR anti-tax initiatives to the White House for a personal thank-you from the President.

In a more amusing tidbit, the piece notes that the tribal chief who paid $25,000 for face time with Bush -- now deeply implicated in one of the largest corporate lobbying scandals in history -- originally denied that the meeting took place, but has "revisited that issue" and "now recalls that he in fact did go to the White House."

Campaign finance reform seems to have slipped as a hot issue among progressives -- perhaps in part because Democrats discovered in 2004 they could go toe-to-toe with the GOP in the fundraising arms race. But what remains is a corrupt and rigged game of pay-to-play politics, a game that the deep-pocketed corporations will always win.

Getting money out of politics has to be back at the top of any reform agenda.