Crawford, Texas President Bush brought in his most prolific fund-raisers for a private barbecue down the road from his ranch Saturday as he turned his attention from rebuilding Iraq to re-election politics.
The Bush campaign shuttled in about 350 people, each of whom had helped collect $50,000 by June 30 for his 2004 campaign. Their reward: personal attention from Bush and from Karl Rove, his top political adviser, at the nearby Hickey Broken Spoke Ranch.
Two groups that monitor fund-raising activities, Public Citizen and Texans for Justice, said the barbecue showed that campaign donors could get the president's ear and favorable treatment from the Bush administration.
"These people are some of the smartest businessmen in America, and if they didn't continue to see a payback in their investment in the Bush campaign, they wouldn't continue to make these kinds of donations time after time," said Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen for Texas.
He spoke at a news conference a few miles from Bush's ranch. An inflatable White House stood behind him, marked with the sign: "White House for Sale." Secret Service agents and kept an eye on the event.
"President Bush today is hiding his big donors behind plumes of barbecue smoke," said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Justice.
Asked whether the big fund-raisers get unique access to the president, campaign spokesman Dan Ronayne said, "People support the president because they appreciate his leadership."
The $170 million Bush is raising now is for a primary in which he faces no Republican opponent. Bush will accept taxpayer money for the election against the Democratic nominee.