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Documents show donor access to GOP governors

The Republican Governors Association, which is raising money to maintain the party’s power in a majority of the nation’s capitals, has routinely promised donors special access to top leaders, documents show.

Dozens of fundraising invitations, meeting agendas and other records compiled by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, chronicle how corporate executives and other donors are rewarded with the chance to meet governors and their aides in functions at ski lodges, resorts and other venues not open to the public.

Donors were offered the opportunity to lobby state leaders who have power over health care, energy production and other regulatory and contracting matters important to business. The most access went to those who gave at least $250,000, including Aetna Inc., the third-largest U.S. health insurer, Pfizer Inc., the largest U.S. drugmaker and Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest U.S. energy company.

“Access is the name of the game,” said Bill Allison, the editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that tracks money in politics. “What an organization like the RGA does is offer access in return for donations and that allows them to push their agenda.”

Aetna makes public its political contributions in an annual report showing it gave $300,000 to the Republican Governors Association — and an equal amount to its Democratic counterpart.

Sharing ‘views’

“We have never hesitated to share our views on issues of importance to our business and our customers,” Cynthia Michener, a spokeswoman for Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna, said in a statement. “We support organizations and political candidates of both parties who generally share our views on how to best address the issues we face.”

Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Irving, Texas-based Exxon, described the company’s involvement with the governors group as part of its lobbying strategy.

“We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities and shareholders to represent their interests in public policy discussions that impact our business,” he said by e-mail.

Joan Campion, a spokeswoman for New York-based Pfizer, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the contributions in a telephone message left after regular business hours.

Defend control

The Republican Governors Association, led this year by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is raising money to help the party’s candidates for the top state elected position. In November, elections will be held in 36 states — 22 now with Republican governors. Seven more Republican-led states aren’t choosing governors this year.

Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, didn’t respond to an email and telephone messages seeking comment on the contributions. The records were first reported by the New York Times.

The promise of access in return for political contributions isn’t limited to Republicans. The Democratic Governors Association also hosts exclusive gatherings out of public view where contributors can mingle with top officials. The Democratic group raised $26 million in the first six months of the year, according to Internal Revenue Service filings.

The Republican Governors Association, in the same period, raised more than $46 million, which it’s using for advertising campaigns to bolster the party’s gubernatorial candidates in states including Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois, where close contests are being waged.

“Both parties have been doing this probably since the start of the republic,” Allison said.

Courting contributors

The documents offer a look at how the Republican Governors Association has courted its contributors, which include Koch Industries Inc. and hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson.

Derrick Crowe, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the organization discovered the records online, where they may have been opened to public view by mistake. The governors association doesn’t disclose the details about its fundraisers.

Among them are a series of 2008 records describing the larger perks given to top contributors. For example, so-called Governors Club members who gave at least $250,000 received private meals with the governors and their chiefs of staff, as well as access to other events with governors throughout the year. Contributors of at least $5,000 were told they would receive two tickets to the Republican Governors Association’s annual Washington fundraiser and seats for breakfast policy sessions with governors’ staff members.

Ski package

In 2010, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour hosted an event in Park City, Utah, where the agenda describes a reception with governors after time for skiing or snowmobiling. The group that year also sponsored policy summits on health care, debt, taxes and jobs open to donors, according to one schedule.

Aimee Edwards, a spokeswoman for Herbert, said the governor was traveling and wasn’t available to comment. Barbour, who has since left office, couldn’t immediately be reached.

The attendees at one such event last year included more than a dozen members of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee — a so-called social welfare organization that serves as the governors association’s nonprofit policy arm, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

Subjects to be discussed during the two-day meeting included the implementation of President Barack Obama’s health- care overhaul and the benefits of the energy-production boom for states including Ohio, Texas and Louisiana, according to the agenda.

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