in Houston, Texas

Houston money-man had deep connections to Bush

Sunday, Aug 24, 2008, 10:12AM CST
By Trent Seibert

For weeks now, the White House has had a consistent message about Texas politico Stephen Payne: We don't know him that well. He doesn't really work for us. And we certainly didn't tell him to do what he did -- offer foreign governments access to the White House in return for contributions to President Bush’s presidential library.

But Stephen Payne has a long relationship with George W. Bush, dating back even before Bush's tenure as Texas governor, going back to when the future president was managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, according to documents obtained by Texas Watchdog.

Payne, a Houston-based political consultant and well-known Republican fundraiser, has built on his relationship with Bush and other members of the president's inner circle to create a career peddling influence to the Administration, largely selling that influence to foreign governments like Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

Through ventures like Worldwide Strategic Partners and Team Eagle, he has promoted himself to potential clients as being able to remove Uzbekistan opposition leader Muhammed Salih from the U.S. terrorist watch list, and securing Pakistan additional funding from the American government, according to a computer slideshow touting his firm's track record.

“It gives me great pleasure to thank you for playing such an important rolein strengthening U.S.-Pakistan ties,” Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in a 2006 letter to Payne, cited in the same slideshow.“The challenges faced by both our countries in the aftermath of September 11th brought us even closer, in which you played a pivotal role.”

As for what exactly Payne did to better the bonds between the U.S. and its troubled ally, Musharraf did not explicitly say in the letter.

Behind these claims to United Nations-quality feats of international diplomacy is a lobbyist whose track record of full-time work for the government is much more mundane, such as serving a stint as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

'Help and counsel'

Long before his globetrotting, Payne's network of influence started growing right here in Texas. This relationship is chronicled not only in Payne’s fundraising prowess –- but in the familiar penmanship of George W. Bush.

One letter, obtained by Texas Watchdog, shows Bush writing to Payne on Texas Rangers letterhead.

“I’ll need your help and counsel…,” Bush writes on one note.

On another note, apparently from the same time period, Bush writes to Payne, “Thanks for your help, it means a lot.”

One personal note dated 1998 written on the letterhead of the Governor of Texas, Bush writes to Payne, “Great job last Saturday.”

Other correspondence can be found here and here.

When the story first broke last month in The Times of London that Payne offered access to top administration officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney in exchange for a $250,000 donation to the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, the White House took pains to distance itself from Payne.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino on July 14 said there was “categorically no link between any official business and the Bush library.”

There were more questions at a July 16 White House press briefing by Perino:

QUESTION: Does the President know Steve Payne?

PERINO: I think — yes, he believes that he would have met him before. I don’t think that he knows him all that well, but he has met him before…

QUESTION: You don’t know if he could carry through on promises to help people get in touch with people at the White House?

PERINO: In terms of — look, I’m sure that he probably knows a lot of people throughout the administration, given his history. But it would be inappropriate to say that he could — for anybody to say that they could get anything done or any meeting done in exchange for a contribution to the library, or to the party, or anything else.”

But subsequent revelations have some raising eyebrows over the relationship between Bush and Payne. If, in fact, Payne was selling access to the White House in return for six-figure library donations, there are vast implications.

Payne did not return a call left at his Houston-based Worldwide Strategic Partners, but a woman who answered the phone referred Texas Watchdog to a statement Payne made previously, which said that he never meant to suggest that meetings with high-level Bush administration officials were linked to the contributions to the Bush library.

Payne also said that The Times of London tried to “entrap me into alleging that an illegal relationship could be established," according to a statement released by Payne.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform has also launched an investigation into the matter.

“If true, this report raises serious concerns about the ways in which foreign interests might be secretly influencing government though large donations to the library,” U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the committee, wrote to Payne on July 14. “Under current law, there are few restrictions on efforts to raise funds for presidential libraries.”

Waxman provided a series of questions for Payne and asked him to respond. Officials with the Oversight Committee said that Payne has responded and that his answers are being studied, but they declined to make his answers public.

Since the White House statements, other evidence of Payne’s long – and apparently close – relationship with Bush has come out.

Payne was, for example, Bush’s travel aide during Bush’s father’s 1988 presidential campaign.

In 2000 and 2004 he was a member of the Bush Pioneers, an elite group of fundraisers who can identify and secure $100,000 in donations for Bush’s presidential campaign.

The administration returned the favor, making Payne a "senior advance representative" for the White House and putting him on the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, an influential panel of about two dozen people whose other members include former CIA Director William Webster and former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Payne was bounced from the homeland security panel after news of the library donations solicitations broke.

Payne's Web of influence

Click on this interactive map from to explore Stephen Payne's connections to the Bush administration and other GOP power players, such as John McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann.

Got tips or feedback? Contract Trent Seibert at or 713-366-7974.

Texas Watchdog » A Little Love from Lindsay
Monday, 08/25/2008 - 04:21PM

[...] Payne [...]

Bruce Stram
Sunday, 04/24/2011 - 12:28PM

You've got to be kidding. These documents show no such thing as a "close relationship". There are boiler plate of the type sent to thousands.

Pablo blue
Tuesday, 10/18/2011 - 01:00PM

Bruce, Those hand written and signed notes don't look anything like the thank you notes Reagan and both presidents Bush sent my mom and dad after they gave may want to actually read all the facts about mr payne being one of dubya's closest friends for over thirty years... And maybe try reading all the facts about how close mr payne is to darth Cheney .... Payne traveled with the vice president several times to Pakistan ... He also went on other official business trips with Cheney and hunted with Cheney several times can see pictures payne posted on his website ....I'm sure mr payne is not doing anything that hasn't always been done.....

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