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Bush does dual-purpose travel: political and official

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Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, left, and wife Nancy greet President Bush at a fundraiser at the Kissinger home.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, left, and wife Nancy greet President Bush at a fundraiser at the Kissinger home.

Mandel Ngan, Getty Images

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Northwest Boys and Girls Club of Hartford may seem an unlikely place for President Bush to commemorate Malaria Awareness Day. Unless, that is, the president also has an invitation to headline a closed-door fundraiser for a Republican House candidate at the expansive Connecticut estate of Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

That is precisely what Bush did Friday, in a quirk of White House scheduling that may become increasingly common as the campaign season goes on.

Bush remains a prolific fundraiser — the Republican National Committee says he has raised $102 million since the beginning of 2007 — but he almost always links his political work with official travel. After all, how would it look for the president to climb aboard Air Force One, with an entourage of White House staff members and Secret Service agents, and fly off somewhere just to rustle up campaign cash?

Friday's juxtaposition of money matters and disease prevention brought Bush in contact not only with the white-haired Kissinger, but also with fresh-faced and eager young boys and girls who were doing some fundraising of their own to fight malaria.

But the day raised a few interesting questions: Just how does the White House marry the political and the official? Which came first, the fundraiser or the Boys and Girls Club event? Bush signed a presidential proclamation in honor of Malaria Awareness Day in the Oval Office on Friday morning. Why did he need a malaria event in Connecticut, too?

"The president has business there, but he's stopping by and going to visit the Boys and Girls Club," said Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who coordinates the President's Malaria Initiative.

"We don't need a reason to go to Connecticut, but this is a good one," said Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, referring to the malaria event.

But Doug Sosnik, a one-time political adviser to President Bill Clinton, says the reason is probably the fundraiser.

Presidential staffs pair official events with political ones for two reasons. First, election finance rules require campaigns to reimburse the taxpayers for presidential travel; if there is an official component to the trip, the taxpayers and the campaigns can sometimes share the bill. The reimbursement is for airfare, not the cost of Secret Service protection or support staff, said Kenneth Gross, a campaign finance lawyer.

The second reason, more important than money, Sosnik said, is message.

"If you're smart in the White House, you certainly don't want to have your message event of the day be that the president is fundraiser in chief," Sosnik said. "So you pick a policy that you want to highlight as president, and you tuck the fundraiser in behind that."