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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Fund-raiser in chief

President Bush was supposed to be on vacation last month, but he didn't spend much time cutting brush on his Texas ranch. Instead, he used the 30 days outside Washington to political advantage, raising $9 million for Republican candidates, with a substantial contribution from taxpayers.

Mr. Bush was able to charge off a big chunk of his vacation travel to “the government” by carefully scheduling minor public events in conjunction with fund-raisers in 11 states.

Case in point: The President jetted from his “Prairie Chapel” last week to Arkansas and Oklahoma to conduct his 49th and 50th fund-raisers of the year, which netted $1.1 million for the GOP. The pretext: an announcement that Arkansas was among five states that will receive a total of $2.4 million for education programs.

As much as he hates to be compared to Bill Clinton, Mr. Bush has more than tripled his predecessor's record for generating campaign cash and now truly merits the title “fund-raiser in chief.” By the first midterm elections of his presidency, Mr. Clinton had raised $35 million; Mr. Bush has $115 million.

That's the power of the incumbency. The President hands out government grants at schools for the television cameras, then retreats behind closed doors to help out his party's congressional candidates at $1,000-a-person luncheons and dinners.

No one should be surprised by Mr. Bush's fund-raising prowess. He was, after all, the first candidate to turn down federal campaign funds for the 2000 presidential primary election season, a tactic that allowed him to exceed federal spending limits.

Likewise, it is not surprising that the old Republican criticism of Mr. Clinton for his alleged selling of the presidency has been vaporized in the exhaust of Air Force One as it lifts off for the next chicken-and-beans soiree. This is especially true since it was revealed recently that some of Mr. Bush's top fund-raisers also have been overnight guests at the White House.

Yes, presidents of both political parties have engaged in this now-familiar brand of retail politics, but that doesn't make the practice any less distasteful.

If money is the mother's milk of politics, hypocrisy is its comforting pacifier.

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