Bush Adviser Contributes to Texas Democrats

President Bush's top adviser on media relations in the 2000 campaign apologized Thursday for making campaign contributions to several Texas Democrats he labels as friends.

Mark McKinnon, still an unofficial adviser to the president, earned the wrath of Republicans angry that he would contribute money to three Texas candidates, including former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who is in a heated battle with Republican state Attorney General John Cornyn to win the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.

"I just let some old friendships cloud my thinking," McKinnon said. The consultant worked with Democrats for two decades before going to work with the Bush campaign.

"There were several candidates running in Texas who were former clients and long-term friends of mine," he said. "They asked me to do their campaigns and I said out of loyalty to the president, I can't engage professionally" but would be glad to make a financial contribution.

McKinnon and his wife gave $14,000 to three Democratic candidates in Texas: Kirk; John Sharp, the nominee for lieutenant governor; and Kirk Watson, the nominee for attorney general.

"It created some heartburn for the administration, I put them in a bad position," McKinnon said. "I said it was a mistake and I've apologized."

The GOP is focused on winning back the Senate, which it lost by one vote last year when Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords abandoned the Republicans.

Democrats, on the other hand, have great expectations about winning back some Texas seats, which they have not held since Bush defeated Gov. Ann Richards in 1994. Their sights are set on the governorship, lieutenant govenorship, the attorney general's post and possibly Gramm's seat.

Republicans say they do not expect McKinnon to sever his relationships with friends who are Democrats, but they question how McKinnon can support a Democratic candidate.

"It's very difficult to see how somebody could both be loyal to the president and supportive of someone who wants to subvert the president's agenda," said David Beckwith, a campaign spokesman for Cornyn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.