STOCKTON, Calif. – President Bush continued his three-day trip through the West Friday, stopping at a number of GOP fund-raising events.
At a fund-raiser at an airport hangar in Stockton transformed with plants, draperies and formal china into an elegant luncheon venue -- Bush called California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon "the next governor" and "a breath of fresh air" that the state desperately needs.
"It's your money and you better have somebody who understands that, that concept, and somebody who will watch the budget," Bush said. "Bill Simon is a proven businessman who can get that done."
The appearances for Simon are his first with Bush since William E. Simon & Sons was slapped with a $78 million civil fraud verdict last month. Simon was not named in the lawsuit and says he thinks the verdict, which is being appealed, will be overturned.
The White House was calculating that canceling the private events, scheduled before the verdict, would be worse for Bush in a state he is hoping to cultivate for Republicans and himself.
The president will "proudly stand with Simon," Fleischer said.
Bush left a "working vacation" at his Texas ranch to visit Oregon, California and New Mexico, all states he lost -- Oregon and New Mexico by the thinnest of margins -- to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election.
The total take for three days: more than $5.3 million.
Bush has recently ramped up an already record-shattering fund-raising effort on behalf of GOP politicians. From Aug. 6 when he left Washington until his return around Sept. 1, he will speak at 11 Republican money events.
Bush will head to Orange County in southern California later on Friday to raise campaign cash for the Republican Party and is slated to attend a Saturday morning breakfast in Los Angeles. These events are expected to raise another $1 million for the state Republican Party.
At a public campaign-style welcome rally at the historic Stockton Memorial Civil Auditorium, the president reprised his oft-repeated zero-tolerance of boardroom fraud.
"Like you all, I took a look out there and saw a problem and the problem is we had some folks who were trying to fudge the numbers. We had some people who decided they weren't going to tell the truth when it came to their assets and liabilities," Bush told a boisterous crowd. "It's an American idea to hold people accountable who betray the public's trust and that's what we're going to do."
But as the traditional Labor Day kickoff of the fall campaign approaches, the president will be looking to wind down the focus on money in favor of rallies and other vote-attracting events.
"There's no hard date on it," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Thursday. "But ... the closer it gets to Election Day, the less important it is to raise money, the more important it is to have more `get out the vote' style events."
California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland likened the president's visit to an uncle visiting a nephew in jail.
"It's family responsibility, but you get out of town quickly," he said.
The man Simon is trying to unseat, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, scheduled a bill-signing for Friday on three measures toughening the state's corporate accountability laws.
Back in Washington, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said "Bush's hypocrisy is galling" as he raises money for Simon while also championing corporate responsibility at every opportunity.
None of it stopped Bush from forging ahead on both fronts.
"We had some citizens in our country who decided that they were going to cook the books. We had some citizens who did not uphold their responsibilities as leaders," he said at a $1 million fund-raising reception for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in Portland. "I got a corporate fraud task force in place that's going to hunt these cheaters down and bring them to justice."
Simon needs Bush's help. His campaign had $5 million in the bank as of June 30 compared to $31 million for Davis.
The White House scheduled policy events during the president's trip that allowed the cost of the travel by the president and his large entourage to be covered by taxpayers as well as campaign accounts.
In Oregon, Bush promoted a new fire-prevention proposal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.