The Republican plan to sell defense briefings to big donors makes me miss the days when all fat cats got was a night in Clinton's Lincoln Bedroom.

By Scott Rosenberg

Published March 13, 2002 12:48AM (EST)

It wasn't so long ago that President Clinton was being pilloried for selling the keys to the Lincoln Bedroom to campaign donors.

Congressional Republicans have come up with an even more outrageous twist on the money-for-access game: For just a $1,000 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee, you can sit in on a "National Defense Briefing" by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Porter Goss, open only to members of the NRCC's "exclusive Speaker's Circle."

The event is part of a two-day "Economic Recovery Workshop" featuring congressional leaders and Bush administration officials that begins Wednesday. The workshop also offers breakfast with Republican whip Tom DeLay, tax advice from House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas and other excitement, but the "defense briefing" is clearly the marquee event. The NRCC's fundraising letter, published on the Judicial Watch Web site and publicized by the Center for Responsive Politics, highlights it as a "special briefing on Homeland Security and National Defense" and warns that "For security reasons, you must be able to show proper identification during registration and check-in" -- though they'll apparently take a $1,000 check from any old schmo.

What insights into our post-Sept. 11 national defense will be offered at this closed-door tête-à-tête? Only those who pony up their contribution will know, of course. The rest of us may sit back and wonder what happened to the spirit of bipartisanship with which the Bush administration launched its war on terrorism. Maybe Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle should invest $1,000, to get answers to his questions about the progress of the war that haven't been forthcoming from the Bush administration.

Sure, political parties are never going to let a little tragedy like Sept. 11 stand in the way of the relentless march of fundraising, and Democrats are busy raising cash too. But using the tragedy and its aftermath to squeeze cash from contributors is a new low in the annals of campaign finance. Which would you rather your president's party be hoarding as bonbons for donors -- White House bed space or vital defense information?

Scott Rosenberg

Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg is director of MediaBugs.org. He is the author of "Say Everything" and Dreaming in Code and blogs at Wordyard.com.

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