If you're ready to give $250 to the Republican Party, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is ready to offer you an up-close and personal briefing on America's war on terrorism.
U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Sanibel, will give the hourlong "national defense briefing" to an assembly of GOP donors Thursday -- an event, critics complain, akin to selling information about the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent events to the highest bidder.
As the House intelligence chief, the congressman from southwest Florida has achieved a new level of cachet. That makes him an ideal candidate to attract donors for the event, which will raise money for GOP congressional candidates across the country.
Also on the bill are House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, who will give a speech to donors, and House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, who will offer tips to small-business owners.
Tickets for the workshop alone are $250, Republican Party officials said. However, the pitch for the event was targeted at bigger donors -- those who would be willing to pay $1,000 to join the "exclusive" Speaker's Circle.
Although it's common for the Democratic and Republican parties to lure donors by promising access to prominent lawmakers, Goss' speech is drawing criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups who accuse the GOP of cashing in on the war on terrorism.
A spokeswoman for Goss referred all inquiries to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is sponsoring the event. Thursday's speech will be open to the press.
Steve Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions, said the whole point of these kinds of fund-raisers is to make donors feel special by giving them more information than they could get from the press or other source. But it's unusual to see those methods used when the topic is terrorism, he said.
The bottom line, Weiss said, is that events such as the one Thursday imply that money buys access.
But Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the NRCC, said Goss would not be revealing anything he hasn't already said to media or constituents. The kind of information that's traded when the intelligence panel meets behind closed doors, Schmidt said, will not be divulged.
"His speech will not be fundamentally different to anything he would say to a Rotary Club back home," Schmidt said. "There certainly will be no classified or sensitive information discussed."
Schmidt said Goss was invited to speak because of his expertise in an area that has become important and fascinating to nearly everyone over the past six months. He called the idea that political appointees and politicians would not be talking to party supporters in an election year "just silly."
"It's just a political cheap shot to suggest there's anything wrong with this," Schmidt said. "In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively small fund-raising event. . . . This is an important opportunity to build the grass roots of the party."
Some Republicans have accused one of Goss' colleagues on the intelligence committee, California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, of trading on her position last fall. Harman held a conference call for members of the New Democrat Network, a dues-supported political-action group, to discuss "challenges facing U.S. intelligence."
Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Harman, said Tuesday that the call was an outreach effort Harman made to her constituents in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and that fund-raising was neither the purpose of the call nor a result.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there are no plans for him to follow Goss' lead. The longtime friends are preparing to merge their committees for hearings this spring on how the nation's intelligence agencies failed to foresee the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said there is a clear distinction between having elected officials discuss matters such as energy policy and what Goss will be talking about.
"It is standard procedure to have elected officials come in and brief on their area of expertise. But it's absolutely not standard procedure to include national security policy in that," she said. "They should not be charging money for a domestic-security briefing, period." Bill Allison of the nonpartisan ethical watchdog group the Center for Public Integrity called the Goss briefing "really terrible." But he noted that when parties cater to donors, they tend to pick the hottest topic.
In fact, there are several Bush administration appointees either speaking or leading "economic recovery workshops" Thursday -- although a recent disclaimer on an NRCC news release pointed out that they are attending in their personal capacity and not as government representatives.
Schmidt said they were invited to discuss general issues, not government policy. But Allison chuckled at that assertion.
"I don't think they're going to be talking about the upcoming baseball season," he said.
© 2002 OrlandoSentinel.com