Power-brokers give $3 million to 'new' Democrats After party, Clinton issues ethics rules

December 10, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau Chief

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- To the other "firsts" of the Clinton era add this: the first special-interest money hustle.

The night before unveiling here new ethics rules for his administration, President-elect Bill Clinton was the star attraction one of Washington's biggest political fund-raising extravaganzas in years. Hundreds of lobbyists and corporate executives paid $1,500 each to attend a black-tie dinner that took in more than $3 million for Mr. Clinton's favorite political network, the Democratic Leadership Council.

Barely 12 hours later, the Clinton transition team announced new rules designed to "end business as usual in Washington" by making it tougher for senior administration officials to get lucrative lobbying jobs once they had left government.

The rules, which took weeks longer to craft than Clinton aides had anticipated, were issued in advance of today's expected announcement of the first appointments of the new administration. Among those Mr. Clinton is expected to name are Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as Treasury secretary, Wall Street financier Robert E. Rubin as economic security adviser and California Rep. Leon E. Panetta as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Other appointments are likely soon, perhaps this week, including Madeleine Kunin, the former governor of Vermont, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Clinton also is reported to have four women under consideration for attorney general: federal appeals Judges Patricia M. Wald of Washington, D.C., and Amalya L. Kearse of New York; state Judge Judith S. Kaye of New York; and attorney Brooksley E. Born of Washington, D.C.

And the Los Angeles Times reported today that Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a close adviser to President Bush and former President Ronald Reagan, is under increasingly serious consideration for secretary of state in the Clinton administration, according to Clinton transition officials.

In announcing the new ethics regulations, Warren Christopher, the transition director, said Mr. Clinton was making good on his campaign promise to "change the climate in Washington and usher in a new era of public service."

But the night before, as the president-elect was ushered into the fund-raiser in the vast, gilded lobby of Washington's Union Station, the scene looked very much like the bad old days Mr. Clinton had promised to change. And despite the large banner that said, "Celebrate the New Democrats," it didn't even look all that Democratic.

Among those who plunked down $15,000 for a table were the lobbying firms of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, which is headed by Charles Black, the Bush campaign's senior strategist, and Valis Associates, whose partner Wayne Valis was an official of the past three Republican administrations.

There also were legions of Democratic power-brokers, such as Patton, Boggs & Blow, the Washington lawyer-lobbyist firm that counts Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown (one of the guests of honor) as a partner. Companies that will be fighting to protect their interests in the coming battle over health insurance were particularly well-represented among the $15,000 givers: Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Eli Lilly & Co., Baxter Healthcare, Equitable, Massachusetts Mutual Life and Upjohn Co., among others.

The 139 corporations and lobbyists at the fund-raiser read like a Who's Who of the energy industry (American Nuclear Energy Council, Texaco Inc., BP America, Phillips Petroleum, Alabama Power Co., Ashland Oil Inc., Chevron Corp.), the defense industry (Textron Inc., McDonnell Douglas Corp., General Dynamics Corp.) and the tobacco lobby (RJR Nabisco, the Tobacco Institute, the Smokeless Tobacco Council, Philip Morris Cos.).

Mr. Clinton, who pledged in his campaign to crack down on the capital's high-powered "influence peddlers," stands to benefit, at least indirectly, from their donations.

The Democratic Leadership Council, which he headed for 18 months, served as a vehicle for his presidential ambitions and has supplied a number key officials for his transition.

In addition, many Clinton administration appointees are likely to be drawn from the council's membership, including Mr. Bentsen and Mr. Panetta.

More important, the Democratic Leadership Council is setting up state chapters across the country -- there are 33 already, including Maryland -- which will supplement the Democratic Party as the new president's national political organization.

Critics are already questioning whether Mr. Clinton's actions are living up to his campaign rhetoric.

"He has railed against influence peddlers, but in fact he schmoozes and hobnobs with them on a regular basis. There's a disconnect there," says Charles Lewis, who works at the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity.

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