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GW Bush reverses himself on using soft money to pay for Iowa straw poll site


DES MOINES, IA, July 19´┐ŻAmidst criticism from opponents, Texas Gov. George W. Bush has decided to dip into his campaign coffers, rather than use soft money, to pay the $43,5000 cost of leasing a prime site at next month's Iowa straw poll.

This is the second time in a month that Bush, who hopes to gain the Republican presidential nomination, has reversed positions. Bush, who initially declined to attend a gathering of 6,000 minority journalists in Seattle, quickly changed his mind when he was criticized by the Los Angeles Times.

Campaign aides told the Associated Press (AP) that Bush had solicited $50,000 in soft money to pay for the cost of leasing the site and to buy tickets to the event. The site will be used to promote Bush's candidacy.

While initially claiming it was legal to use soft money to pay for the straw poll expenses, he has now reversed his stand.

``Gov. George W. Bush today directed his presidential campaign to send a campaign check to the Republican Party of Iowa to cover the costs of renting space and purchasing tickets for the Iowa straw poll,'' spokeswoman Karen Hughes said in a statement.

``He asked the party to refund individual checks from six donors that had been sent for that purpose,'' she said.

With Bush's rivals charging that paying for the straw poll expenses with soft money violated campaign spending laws, Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials said it fell into a legal gray area.

``This raises serious questions about how ethical a Bush administration would be, particularly since they've raised a gazillion dollars from Washington lobbyists,'' Keith Appel, a spokesman for publisher Steve Forbes, one of Bush's rivals for the Republican nomination, is quoted as saying by the AP

``It's good to see Governor Bush clearly noted the error of his ways and has chosen to follow the letter and intent of the law,'' said Forbes aide Bill Dal Col, according to the AP.

The Bush campaign earlier this month outbid its rivals in a silent auction for what is considered the prime spot to court participants outside the Hilton Coliseum in Ames.

While there are few limits on soft money -- cash given directly to a political party and not a candidate -- the FEC contends the key test is whether a donation is designed to help a candidate or to help a party.

An FEC spokesman said there have been inquiries about Bush's intention to use soft money to promote himself at the straw poll and, if there is a complaint, the commission will have to investigate.

In her statement, Hughes maintained that ``individual contributions to the party are allowed under the law,'' but conceded that leasing a prime location near the entrance to the straw poll benefited the campaign.

``He therefore decided to remove any questions or doubt by paying for these expenses directly from his presidential campaign account,'' Hughes said.

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