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Four of the most powerfulbusinessleaders in America arrived at the White House one day last month forlunchwith President Barack Obama, sitting down in his private dining room just steps from the Oval Office.

But even for powerful CEOs, there’s no such thing as afree lunch: White House staffers collected credit card numbers for each executive and carefully billed them for the cost of themealwith the president.

The White House defended the unusual move as a way to avoid conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration didn’t charge presidential guests formeals, one former official said, and at least one etiquette expert found the whole thing unseemly – suggesting it was a serious breach of protocol.

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