Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush Puts Friends in High Places ; He Accelerates Trend of Installing Big Donors in a Widening Range of Government Positions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush Puts Friends in High Places ; He Accelerates Trend of Installing Big Donors in a Widening Range of Government Positions

Article excerpt

American presidents have long rewarded big financial backers with plum posts - ambassadorships, seats on commissions, staff positions.

But Mr. Bush, after setting fundraising records in the 2000 election, appears to be accelerating a trend of installing big donors in a wider range of government positions - everything from federal judgeships to agencies like the Peace Corps.

The move is raising questions about some nominees' fitness for their jobs. And it's sparking closer scrutiny of their money- giving histories:

* The average donation given to Mr. Bush by the 310 cabinet and sub-cabinet nominees announced through July 26 was about $8,300. That's roughly double the average of President Clinton's appointees, according to preliminary analysis for a report due out in September by the Presidential Appointee Initiative.

* Some Bush nominees for federal judgeships have given generously to the Republican Party, which is raising questions about their impartiality. Now, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee want to ask nominees about their donation history.

* An unusually high number of Bush's ambassador picks - about half - are "political appointees," many of them big donors, according to one analysis. Traditionally presidents use only about 30 percent of these foreign posts to reward top supporters.

All in all, "The tremendous fundraising pressure and the rise in soft money have created more opportunity for money to matter in the presidential appointments process," says Paul Light of the Presidential Appointee Initiative at The Brookings Institution.

Overall, the Bush campaign raised $101 million from individual donors during the 1999-2000 election season - including, his supporters point out, $20.2 million in contributions of $200 or less.

Indeed, in one sense, it's not surprising that many appointees were also campaign givers: Republicans at all levels rallied so effectively behind Bush and his party that, now, almost all of Bush's potential nominees have big donation records.

And it's not just Republicans who are relying on party stalwarts for funds. The preliminary Brookings data shows that about half the appointees of both Presidents Clinton and Bush gave money. The difference with Bush's nominees is simply that they gave twice as much -on average about $8,300.

But critics worry about the seeming linkage of gifts to job offers.

"It gives the appearance that generous campaign contributions are a requirement for some of these important posts," says Steve Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics.

The White House insists that people aren't picked because of big donations. "The president's nominees are chosen based on their knowledge and expertise - and their ability to implement the president's agenda," says Anne Womack, a White House spokeswoman. …

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