A conservative Catholic magazine and think tank that advertised a "White House briefing" in exchange for a hefty contribution was forced to cancel the event yesterday after the White House suddenly backed out of the deal.
Crisis magazine and its affiliated think tank, the Morley Institute for Church and Culture, had advertised Monday's seventh annual 36-hole Lazarus Golf Tournament benefit at the Bull Run Country Club in Haymarket, Va., as including a White House briefing the next day.
A letter announcing the event, signed by Morley Institute director Deal Hudson, told golfers that they could bring guests to the White House. Officials slated to be at the event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building included Jim Towey of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
The tab for the golf tournament was $2,000 for one person, $3,500 for a twosome or $6,000 for a foursome. A priest could be sponsored for $1,500.
After being questioned by The Washington Times yesterday afternoon about the briefing, White House officials quickly canceled the event.
"The inclusion of a White House briefing on a fundraising letter is wholly inappropriate," spokesman Trent Duffy said later. "The White House was not aware whatsoever it would be used in this fashion. It's well-established that it's inappropriate for third parties to use the White House for briefings to raise money."
Neither the 32,000-circulation Crisis magazine nor Mr. Hudson returned calls for comment yesterday.
The White House has been especially sensitive about the issue in light of President Clinton's use of the Lincoln Bedroom for overnight stays for campaign contributors. Last month, Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, was rebuked by the White House after he offered to conduct tours of the executive mansion for donors to a $2,500-a-plate June 14 fundraiser.
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a campaign-finance watchdog group, said such a briefing on behalf of a religious group would be unethical.
"It's an abuse just like inviting donors to the Lincoln Bedroom was," she said. "You're giving a private charity access to the highest levels of government."
Mr. Hudson, 55, was once a top consultant to the White House on Catholic issues and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee's Catholic outreach effort. He resigned the RNC post in August after an expose in the National Catholic Reporter about his 1994 dismissal from Fordham University after a sexual liaison with an 18-year-old student.
In September, he was forced out of his position as Crisis publisher by his board after five Crisis columnists brought up accusations of more recent sexual misconduct by Mr. Hudson and threatened a walkout.
In January, Mr. Hudson was named as the Morley Institute's director and slowly began nurturing his political contacts. On April 13, he helped stage a $250-a-plate third annual "American Patriot Dinner" in Manhattan, benefiting Crisis and the Morley Institute.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, a former RNC chairman, was the honored guest. Attendees included Tim Goeglein and Matt Smith from the White House's Office of Public Liaison, and Ralph Reed, a political consultant for the 2004 Bush campaign.