Double-secret donations

President Bush has a new "don't ask, don't tell" policy. It involves his presidential library. Fundraising for the library is going on &

in secret, we are told, shielded even from the president himself. According to White House press secretary Dana Perino, Bush "has asked that members of his foundation do not inform him about anyone who has written a check, or decided not to write a check, until after he's no longer president." Do they tell the check writers, one wonders, that the president won't actually know about their generosity? Does the president, if some eager-beaver donor starts to blab about his gift, put his fingers in his ears and start to talk over the giver, like a child who doesn't want to listen to his parents?

The reported Bush approach, it must be said, is preferable to the vacuum cleaner operation of Bill Clinton's presidential library, which held soirees for potential donors featuring you know who. But Bush's diffidence about knowing who's giving merely underscores the inappropriateness of having sitting presidents collecting money for future "presidential temples," as art historian Benjamin Hufbauer has described them. If people are giving money that the president doesn't feel comfortable knowing about, well, maybe he shouldn't have this money-raising operation going on in the first place.

In that sense, the sting operation by the Sunday Times of London against Bush campaign fundraiser and international consultant Stephen Payne ought to be a wake-up call for the president. Payne was captured on videotape suggesting that a foreign politician might do well to pledge $250,000 to the library as part of his effort to meet with administration officials.

The Bush library folks have been saying for a year and half that they are developing a policy about what contributions they will accept and whether they will release the names of donors. Don't hold your breath on the latter. No policy has been forthcoming, except &

in the aftermath of the Payne story &

to say that foreign checks won't be accepted while the president is in office. Of course, if he doesn't know who's giving, why not bring it all on? Meanwhile, the library's been raising money &

although it won't say how much &

and it has put off filing the Internal Revenue Service form that would show that information.

Secret fundraising is a stinky business. Bush's decision to stick his head in the sand doesn't relieve the stench.

"" The Washington Post

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