'Enough to Show That They're Serious'
A well-connected lobbyist and donor for President Bush was unknowingly taped by an undercover reporter for The Sunday Times of London, suggesting that a hefty donation to Bush's planned presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas could net some White House access.
The meeting, which was caught on tape, shows Houston lobbyist Steve Payne talking with a Kazakh politician, who said he was interested in "rehabilitating" a former president's image among U.S. dignitaries.
In the video, Payne can be seen telling "Eric Dos," a Kazakh politician whose real name is Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, that he can help arrange meetings with top White House officials for former Kyrgyzstan president Askar Akayev, who is now living in exile in Moscow.
"I think that some things could be done," said Payne, adding: "I think that the family, children, whatever [of Akayev], should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library... enough to show they're serious."
Payne raised more than $100,000 for George W. Bush's election in 2000 and another $200,000 for his reelection, according to Texans for Public Justice.
According to Texans for Public Justice, which tracks fundraising and lobbying in Texas, Payne's top client is J.P. Morgan Chase and other big clients in recent years include iMind, an education software company that collapsed in 2001; United Space Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed space contractor; and government contractors Maximus, Inc. and SAP Public Sector.
The Clinton administration appointed Payne as the Houston-area's honorary U.S. Consul for Latvia in 1999. He sits on the board of the U.S.-Baltic Foundation, which promotes free-markets in the Baltic Republics and Payne was deputy director for congressional relations on the 2001 Bush-Cheney Inaugural Committee.
Updated with reaction from the White House and Payne
Library officials promised Tuesday that no foreign money will be accepted until President Bush leaves office, The Dallas Morning News reported.
"Current law only requires annual disclosure of the total sum raised," said Dan Bartlett, the former White House counselor, speaking for the foundation that will build the Bush library and research center. "We're working through all our decisions but ... at a minimum, we are not going to be accepting donations from non-U.S. residents before he's out of office."
Payne, who this week lost the post he held for a year on a Homeland Security advisory committee studying border policy and the "secret" security clearance it carried after being forced to resign, told his hometown paper, The Houston Chronicle, that he had done nothing wrong and simply had hoped to sign the former president of Kyrgyzstan as a client.
"I was not there to raise money for the library, I have no interest in the library. I was there to get a client," Payne said. He released a statement and e-mails to the Chicago Tribune's political blog, The Swamp, saying the London reporter kept asking leading questions, and he accused The Sunday Times of editing out sections of the conversation that would clear him of suspicion.
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