Sunday, June 13, 2004

Warm personal relationship stoked fund-raising fires

Campaign linchpin began as Bush's friend

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington bureau

WASHINGTON - Unlike other Cincinnati Republican money men such as Reds owner Carl Lindner or Cintas founder Richard Farmer, Mercer Reynolds had been only a small-time donor to GOP causes before George W. Bush ran for president.

His connection to Bush is more personal than political. They have been friends for a quarter-century since the day they met at Midland's Petroleum Club in Texas.

Reynolds, along with longtime partner Bill DeWitt, invests.

He'll invest in seemingly anything: Arby's franchises, playing card companies, newspapers, carpet stores, even the Newport Aquarium.

Back in the summer of 1979, like a lot of investors, Reynolds was looking to try out the oil business, which was booming. A friend in Midland introduced him to Bush, who at the time had an oil company looking for investors.

Bush was sweating from a morning jog, Reynolds recalled. The two men hugged.

"I knew immediately he was going to be a good friend," Reynolds said. During lunch, Bush talked to everyone at the table and asked about Reynolds' family.

Their oil venture went bust, but the friendship remained. They invested in the Texas Rangers baseball team together.

When Bush ran for president in 2000, Reynolds was one of the first Pioneers, fund-raisers who agreed to collect $100,000 for the campaign. When Bush won, Reynolds raised the money for the president's inauguration, and Bush eventually named him ambassador to Switzerland.

Reynolds still sees Bush as a good investment, a pitch he makes to potential donors. What's the return?

"Good government," Reynolds said. Despite what critics say, he insists the money buys nothing in terms of government action or even access.

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