The London Times runs a disturbing investigative story today that shows a former Bush bundler and lobbyist selling access to the highest levels of government in return for donations to the future Bush presidential library. Stephen Payne, who bundled for both of George W Bush’s presidential campaigns and now works at Worldwide Strategic Partners, tells an undercover reporter representing himself as an agent of the former president of Kyrgyzstan that it will take $200 thousand minimum as a contribution to get an audience with **** Cheney or Condoleezza Rice. The Times helpfully caught the entire transaction on video:
A lobbyist with close ties to the White House is offering access to key figures in George W Bush’s administration in return for six-figure donations to the private library being set up to commemorate Bush’s presidency.
Stephen Payne, who claims to have raised more than $1m for the president’s Republican party in recent years, said he would arrange meetings with **** Cheney, the vice-president, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, and other senior officials in return for a payment of $250,000 (£126,000) towards the library in Texas.
Payne, who has accompanied Bush and Cheney on several foreign trips, also said he would try to secure a meeting with the president himself.
The actual cash requirement, Payne explains, would be much larger — between $600-750 thousand dollars. The balance would remain with Payne’s firm as a commission for the deal. In return, the meeting would result in an American statement of somewhat ambiguous support for the former president, presumably Askar Akayev, the Soviet-era holdover chased out of office in a moderately-successful lurch towards democracy. The message would be that Akayev wasn’t as bad as people think and deserves a second chance.
Regardless of the party in power, this kind of activity is tremendously damaging to the United States. Our credibility as an actor on behalf of democracy is threatened when these kinds of shakedowns occur. It’s a flat-out solicitation of a bribe, and Payne should be arrested and prosecuted for it, regardless of whether he acted with the authority to deliver such a meeting or not. This threatens our standing to pursue democratization efforts everywhere, but especially in neighboring Iran, where those efforts are critical to our national security and the ability to avoid war.