An Arizona car dealer, an interior designer and a former Enron executive were among the 18 major Republican donors invited to the dine with the Queen of England, along with celebrities, members of Congress and Bush administration officials, at last night's White House white-tie state dinner.
"These are not your rank-and-file donors," says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the campaign finance watchdog group the Center for Responsive Politics. "In a sense, this is the GOP royalty."
Republicans were highly critical of President Bill Clinton when he rewarded big contributors with invitations to state dinners.
The 18 major donors on last night's guest list each raised and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush and the Republican party over the past decade, according to an ABC News analysis of campaign contribution data available at Opensecrets.org.
Among the guests to attend the white-tie dinner was Jim Click, a Tucson, Ariz., car dealership owner, who has contributed more than $900,000 for Republicans since 1994, and was designated a Bush "Ranger" for raising more than $200,000 for Bush's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
Click is the cousin and business partner of Robert Tuttle, also a major contributor, who is now the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Tuttle raised at least $100,000 for Bush's re-election campaign, making him a Bush "Pioneer."
Tuttle's predecessor as ambassador to Great Britain, William S. Farish, was also guest at the dinner. Farish and his family have contributed more than $220,000 to the Republican party and made a $100,000 donation to Bush's 2001 inaugural committee. Months later, Bush appointed Farish ambassador.
Many of the major donors on the guest list came from the Texas oil and energy industries, including former Enron executive Richard Kinder. Kinder left Enron in 1996 after buying out the company's pipeline operations to start his own business. Kinder has contributed nearly $1 million to Bush and the GOP since the early 1990s, including $350,000 in donations to Bush's inaugural funds.
Also receiving coveted invitations were Texas oilmen T. Boone Pickens and Ray L. Hunt. Pickens and Hunt have each contributed more than $700,000 to the Republican party going back to the first Bush presidency.
"These guys have been around for a long time," says Krumholz. "They've been fueling Goerge W. Bush's political career since he was governor, and they were funding his father's campaign before him."