A Las Vegas casino magnate, a North Carolina construction materials manufacturer and a Colorado oil executive were among the 17 major Republican donors invited to dine with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, along with U.S. and French officials, at last night's social dinner.
Campaign finance watchdogs say the Bush administration has taken a page from the Clinton White House and other previous administrations, reserving the coveted invitations for their most loyal supporters.
"These are longtime patrons of the Republican party," said Shiela Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "If it weren't for their money, they would not be there."
The donors on the guest list have raised and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush and the Republican party, according to an ABCNews.com analysis of campaign finance data on the Center for Responsive Politics Web site.
Among the guests to attend was Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has contributed hundreds of the thousands of dollars to the Republican party and its candidates and more than $1 million to conservative advocacy groups.
Harold Simmons, another major donor in attendance, contributed $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group responsible for the controversial ads discrediting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry's military record during the 2004 campaign.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. ambassador to France and his predecessor both attended the dinner. They too, though, are major Republican donors.
The current ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, who is married to Bush's cousin, has contributed more than $85,000 to the Republican party and campaigns since 2000, and raised at least $200,000 for Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, making him a Bush "Ranger."
Stapleton's predecessor as U.S. ambassador to France, Howard Leach, a former finance chair for the Republican National Committee, has contributed more than $900,000 to the Republican party and campaigns since 1993. Leach raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, making him a Bush "Pioneer."
The Blotter reported in May that the guest list at the White House state dinner in honor of the Queen of England included 18 major Republican donors, including an Arizona car dealer, an interior designer and a former Enron executive.