Report: Bush fundraisers got $1.2 billion in public funds

By AP Staff

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) â€" Thirty Ohioans who raised a combined $4.1 million for President Bush's re-election campaign have received more than $1.2 billion in public funds for their companies and clients, a newspaper reported.

Since Bush took office in 2001, the federal government has given those companies more than $447 million in subsidies, contracts and other payments, according to records analyzed by The Blade. Ohio has awarded them about $800 million in the last six years, the paper reported Sunday.

Business leaders and lobbyists who raised money for Bush were called "Pioneers" if they raised at least $100,000 and "Rangers" if they raised $200,000; some also were given political appointments.

One of the fundraisers, coin dealer Tom Noe, was charged Thursday with illegally funneling $45,400 in contributions to Bush's re-election bid. Noe has denied wrongdoing in his fundraising and in his handling of a state investment fund, which prompted an investigation that led to Gov. Bob Taft's conviction on ethics charges.

Noe's initial appearance in federal court in Toledo is set for Monday.

Doug Corn, an insurance executive for Northwestern Mutual Life in Cincinnati, raised at least $250,000 for Bush and said he has met with the president 16 times in last two years.

Corn said he decided to raise money because of Bush's Christian values, including his stance on abortion and gay marriage.

"I didn't want, nor did I expect, anything at all in return," Corn said. He added that his reward was seeing John Roberts confirmed as chief justice of the United States.

Both Bush and his opponent, Democratic nominee John Kerry, sought out fundraisers who would in turn tap dozens of others to contribute the $2,000 maximum allowed under federal law. The Bush campaign raised $293 million overall to Kerry's $252 million.

"The Pioneers and Rangers are the networks of people â€" the friends of the friends of the friends â€" who put money into these coffers. They are given a tracking number so their donations can be given credit and there is only one reason for that: if that is going to be used as value later," said Alex Knott, spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Washington.

One of the Bush Rangers, William R. Timken Jr., became the U.S. ambassador to Germany this summer. Timken is the former chairman of Canton-based Timken Co., a ball bearing manufacturer that has received $259 million in government funds since 2001, according to records.

The federal government gave Timken $109 million in 2003 because several countries "dumped" large quantities of ball bearings on the U.S. market for low prices. Timken said the dumping caused $63 billion in damages.

Timken spokesman Jeff Dafler told The Blade he would not comment on the company's individual revenue sources.

Rangers lead two Ohio health care companies: Toledo-based HCR Manor Care Inc. and Elyria-based Invacare.

HCR, for whom M. Keith Weikel serves as chief operating officer, relied on Medicare and other government payments for two-thirds of its $3.33 billion in revenue last fiscal year.

Invacare, whose chief executive is Malachi Mixon, and its subsidiaries have gotten at least $3.1 million in federal contracts since 2001. Invacare also has received at least $691,000 from Ohio since 1999, mostly in development grants.

Bob Bennett, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said it's a stretch to connect state contracts to campaign donations.

"Why is it wrong?" he said. "What makes it wrong? You assume that these people are buying something, and they're not. They're buying good government. They're buying a philosophy of government."

John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, said The Blade's analysis shows a continuing pattern of fundraisers getting special access to the Bush administration.

"A significant amount of that money was raised by people who had particular interests. And it is obvious that some of them were awarded for what they did. Unfortunately, it's the voter and the taxpayer who suffers for that," the former U.S. senator from North Carolina said

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