One-third of President Bush's (search) top 2000 fund-raisers or their spouses were appointed to positions in his first administration, from ambassadorships in Europe to seats on policy-setting boards, an Associated Press review found.

The perks for 246 "pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 also included overnight stays at the White House and Camp David, parties at the White House and Bush's Texas ranch, state dinners with world leaders and overseas travel with U.S. delegations to the Olympics and other events, the review found.

Top fund-raisers say the real charm of the rewards was getting the chance to rub elbows with the president.

"All of us in politics, we've done so many parties and receptions it's old hat to us," said David Miner, a North Carolina textile executive and state lawmaker who helped raise more than $100,000 for Bush in 2000. He was rewarded with invitations to the White House, the vice presidential mansion and Bush's ranch.

"But knowing that here's the commander in chief, the most powerful man on the face of the earth, and you have this first-name-basis with him, that's very special," Miner said.

For some, the chance to mingle with the world's power brokers came in the form of diplomatic appointments. At least two dozen of the 2000 pioneers or their spouses became ambassadors, mostly to Europe.

Howard Leach, a California agribusiness investment banker and former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, went to Paris. Lobbyist Peter Terpeluk went to Luxembourg.

At least 57 contributors or their spouses were named to agency positions, advisory or decision-making committees and boards or to U.S. delegations.

James Langdon, a Washington lawyer, was named to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which advises Bush on intelligence-gathering and counterintelligence. Langdon also was among guests at a state dinner honoring the president of Poland, has stayed overnight at Camp David (search) and served on Bush's energy transition team.

Hersh Kozlov, a New Jersey lawyer, was appointed to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiation, which advises Bush on trade agreements. Texas lobbyist Roger Wallace joined the Inter-American Foundation board, which provides development grants to Central America and the Caribbean.

Three top Bush fund-raisers became Cabinet secretaries: Bush 2000 finance chairman Don Evans at Commerce, Elaine Chao at Labor and Tom Ridge at Homeland Security. At least eight took other high-profile administration jobs, such as State Department chief financial officer Christopher Burnham and Jose Fourquet, U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said Bush appointed the contributors because he believed they were well qualified. "His main objective in appointing someone is finding the person who will get the job done, and someone who has the best qualifications," Healy said.

The practice of rewarding big donors and fund-raisers with ambassadorships and government appointees is ingrained in Washington. Former President Clinton, in his first year in office, picked five $100,000-plus Democratic donors to be ambassadors.

"Just because it is done often does not make it right," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group.

While the appointed pioneers may be qualified for the jobs, Noble said, "Clearly the White House was not looking at a total pool of talent available out there."

Noble predicts competition among Bush's top 2004 fund-raisers for plum administration jobs will be tougher than in 2000, both because there are fewer positions open and because Bush now has twice as many $100,000-and-up fund-raisers as he did in his first campaign.

In the first Bush administration, pioneers' spouses also got into the action. About a half-dozen spouses were given spots on panels such as the board of advisers at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Museum Services Board.

Michelle Engler, a lawyer who is married to former Michigan Gov. John Engler, was named to the Federal Home Mortgage Insurance Corp. board. It oversees a government-sponsored company that finances and insures billions of dollars worth of home mortgages.

In addition to the appointments, at least three-dozen pioneers or others at their companies had front-row seats as Bush assembled his first administration and set policy priorities. Energy, Treasury and Commerce were the most popular transition teams among Bush pioneers.

Tom Kuhn, head of the Edison Electric Institute, was on Bush's energy transition team. So, too, was 2000 pioneer Kenneth Lay, a longtime Bush friend and donor who now faces criminal charges in the Enron scandal. He was not on the list of top Bush re-election fund-raisers.

Allan Hubbard, president of the E&A Industries chemical conglomerate, was invited to take part in Bush's August 2002 economic summit in Texas, as was Floyd Kvamme, a California high-tech executive named to the President's Committee of Advisers on Science and Technology.

About a dozen pioneers were invited to state dinners with foreign dignitaries such as Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, or stayed overnight at the White House or Camp David.

San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos joined the president's parents, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, on the U.S. delegation to last summer's Olympics in Athens. Other pioneers were invited to represent the United States in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica for presidential inaugurations and Rome to celebrate the pope's anniversary.