Wealthy Texas friends of Barbara and George Bush are raising money from private sources to redecorate the vice president's official residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory on Massachusetts Avenue, and one of them estimates the fund could reach a half-million dollars before the drive is over.
A spokesman for the vice president said yesterday that the public won't be allowed to participate and that only the Bushes' friends will be invited to contribute.
According to Peter Teeley, press secretary to the vice president, about $30,000 has been raised since Dorothy Craig, of Midland, Tex., a longtime friend of the Bushes, took over the fund-raising efforts. Teeley said the gifts will be tax deductible and limited to a $10,000 maximum per donor. He said he did not know if the group had set an overall goal, but expressed doubt that it is anywhere near the $500,000 mentioned by Texas oil producer Earle Craig Jr. at a party here earlier this week.
"That figure is absolutely off the charts. You're only talking about four rooms," Teeley said of the three-story, 20-room white brick mansion built in 1893, and still owned, operated and maintained by the U.S. Navy.
The first of those four rooms, the living room, recently was completed at an undisclosed sum under the direction of New York decorator Mark Hampton. Described by an associate as "a blend" of new furniture and existing pieces used by former vice president Walter Mondale and his wife, Joan, the room features English chintz, velvet and damask in greens and terra cotta.
Teeley said the project got under way when the Bushes were approached by friends suggesting they raise money to refurbish the public rooms where an estimated 1,000 guests are entertained "every other day."
The proposed budget for fiscal 1982 provides $9,700 for furnishings, $34,000 for a new veranda roof and $8,000 for a new master bathroom. Unlike the White House, where incoming tenants may spend up to $50,000 of federal money to redecorate the living quarters, there is no similar fund for the vice president's house.
The Reagans rejected the $50,000 and were then able to collect $822,640 in tax-deductible donations from private sources, mostly close friends. The effort far exceeded their stated goal of $200,000 when Frank Sinatra, cosmetics heiress Nancy Denney, philanthropist Mary Lasker, oil moguls Albert B. Fay and Armand Hammer and other wealthy friends became major donors.
The drive came to a halt, however, after it became known that 23 contributors with oil interests had given a total of $270,000 within weeks after President Reagan decontrolled oil prices. Reagan confidante, Holmes Tuttle, the Los Angeles automobile dealer who headed the drive, tossed parties in Oklahoma City and Houston where he made personal appeals for contributions.
"It was something he was happy to do," said an aide to Tuttle at the time. "The response was phenomenal at $10,000 a shot."
Donors said later they had been anxious to show their appreciation for Reagan policies in general and those affecting the oil industry in particular, though they denied that they had hoped to win special favor with the administration.
Teeley said the Bushes' decision to seek funds from private sources was intended to make the collection process "a little easier," as well as control the pace of the refurbishing project.
"Mrs. Bush will take one room at a time since there is no urgency in having it finished," Teeley said.
Dorothy Craig's husband, Earle, longtime friend of the vice president, said there will be no limitations on how many members of one family can contribute $10,000 each. He told of soliciting some of his own relatives "who wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for Uncle Earle."
Teeley said any gifts made to the federal government for preservation or renovation of its buildings are considered charitable ones and are eligible as tax deductions. He said he did not know what the committee will do if it receives unsolicited public donations to the refurbishing fund.
"It's a good question," Teeley said.