The Neighbors Come for Dinner and Make It Pay

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. greets supporters at the North Bethesda fundraiser featuring Laura Bush. Ehrlich aides said the event raised more than $250,000 toward what is expected to be his $20 million campaign for reelection.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. greets supporters at the North Bethesda fundraiser featuring Laura Bush. Ehrlich aides said the event raised more than $250,000 toward what is expected to be his $20 million campaign for reelection. (By Chris Gardner -- Associated Press)
By Peter Whoriskey and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 22, 2005

The first couple stepped out separately yesterday evening for destinations in the Washington suburbs: President Bush set off for a "very intimate dinner" at a McLean estate overlooking the Potomac River; first lady Laura Bush headed for a North Bethesda hotel.

It was one of the Bushes' biggest one-night forays into capital region politics.

Their appearances, essentially an hour or so of face time, raised roughly $2.3 million for Republican leaders in Maryland and Virginia.

The minimum donation for Laura Bush's appearance at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel was a $1,000 gift to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The minimum at the McLean dinner, at the home of developer and home builder Dwight Schar, was a $15,000 donation to Jerry W. Kilgore, gubernatorial candidate in Virginia's Nov. 8 election.

"They called and asked if we wanted 'dinner with the president,' " said Ray Breeden, chairman of the Breeden Co., a development firm based in Virginia Beach. "And who's going to turn that down?" Breeden was planning on flying his jet up for the event.

The allure of the first couple has long been used to spur donations on both sides of the Potomac. But yesterday's circumstances were a bit unusual.

"I don't know of any other time when the president and the first lady were off to different fundraisers on the same night in the D.C. suburbs," said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University. "In part, it's just a geographical accident. It's a very short trip, and a lot of money can be raised."

The invitation to Dwight and Martha Schar's luxurious home by the Potomac River in McLean beckoned with the promise of proximity to power: a "very intimate dinner," it proposed, with "our very special guest President George W. Bush."

What that meant in practice was a meal at a 10,000-square-foot house attended by Bush and about 100 other guests, campaign aides said, not including a phalanx of police and well-dressed security men. The dinner guests were guided down a windy, wooded road on the Schars' 10-acre estate, which bears the name "Wind Falls."

The McLean event was likely to raise about $2 million, making it by far the biggest fundraising event in the Virginia governor's race to date.

Tim Murtaugh, Kilgore's spokesman, said yesterday's financial rewards show that the Kilgore campaign holds appeal for everyone from Main Street America to "the leader of the free world."

But he declined to offer much information. Reporters were barred from the event. The Kilgore campaign refused to divulge such details as the names of attendees or even the menu.


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