Lincoln slept here (and so have some famous Clinton supporters)

September 01, 1996|By Margaret Ebrahim

A FEW WEEKS ago, Forbes magazine reported that the Democratic National Committee was using overnight stays at the White House as a perk to entice wealthy donors to make six-figure contributions. David Brinkley of ABC News, picking up on the item for his Sunday morning television show, joked that even though a contribution of $130,000 would get you a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, "Be warned. I am told Lincoln's bed is hard and lumpy."

The White House wasn't amused. Ann F. Lewis, the deputy manager of President Clinton's re-election campaign, fired off an indignant letter to Brinkley in which she pointed out that many others have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom, including "the cook from Clinton's old governor's mansion in Little Rock, a theology student with his wife and two children, and an old friend who is not well, and the president's pastor and his wife, and none of them paid as much as a dime," Brinkley said on the following week's program.

The Center for Public Integrity decided to put the question to the Democratic National Committee. [See Bedroom, 6f]

Has the DNC, we asked, ever arranged for Democratic contributors to spend the night at the White House?

"This has become an urban myth, like the alligators in the sewers of New York," Amy Weiss Tobe, the DNC's press secretary, told us. "It is just not true."

So who, we wondered, has been invited to stay overnight at the White House?

The White House won't say. The names of overnight guests, it turns out, are a closely guarded secret. "This is their [the First Family's] home, and they have guests visit them all the time," Neel Lattimore, Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, told us. "But these names are not available to the public."

Even without the White House's cooperation, the Center for Public Integrity was able to determine that, since 1993, more than 75 Democratic contributors and fund-raisers have spent the night at the White House - mostly in the Lincoln or Queen's Bedroom - as guests of President and Mrs. Clinton. Most are anything but household names, though such Hollywood notables as Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were on the list.

When guests spend the night in the Lincoln or Queen's Bedroom, they receive five-star treatment. At night, the beds are turned down and breakfast menus are placed on their pillow. Guests choose where they would like to eat breakfast - possibly the Solarium or the sitting room next to the Lincoln Bedroom - and which newspapers they would like to read in the morning. Most guests receive a pass to roam the White House residential quarters. A Democratic lobbyist familiar with perks for contributors told National Journal that spending the night at the White House was like having access to "the best candy store in town."

Here are a few of the Democratic fat cats who've spent the night at the White House:

Steven and Barbara Grossman have contributed at least $400,000 to Clinton and the Democratic Party since 1991. Steven Grossman, the president of the Massachusetts Envelope Co., and his wife, Barbara, attended a state dinner at the White House, in honor of the president of Brazil, in 1995. Later that evening, they retired to the Queen's Bedroom. Steven Grossman told us that it was a "memorable evening" and that he was "honored" to have been invited to the White House.

Lew and Edie Wasserman have contributed at least $450,000 to Clinton and the Democratic Party since 1991 and, over the years, more than $1 million to Democrats. Lew Wasserman, the former chairman of MCA Inc., an entertainment conglomerate, and his wife, Edie, have spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroom at least twice during the Clinton presidency. Wasserman has received special perks as a patron of the Democratic Party. Once, in the later 1970s, when Wasserman couldn't find a hotel room in the nation's capital, he called the late John White, then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. White soon discovered that all of Washington's top hotels were booked solid. But he eventually found overnight lodging for the wealthy Hollywood mogul - at the White House, in the Lincoln Bedroom. This favor for Wasserman, White said, was "just a small thing."

Brian and Myra Greenspun and other relatives have contributed at least $119,450 to Clinton and the Democratic Party since 1991. Brian Greenspun, the editor and president of the Las Vegas Sun, was Clinton's college roommate. He's been instrumental in introducing Clinton to Las Vegas contributors, and in 1996 Clinton attended a $25,000-a-couple luncheon that Greenspun played host to at his Las Vegas home. According to news accounts, a number of gambling industry executives attended the luncheon, including Steve Wynn, the chairman of Mirage Resorts Inc. In 1993, Clinton appointed Greenspun to the White House Conference on Small Business.

Both political parties service their party patrons, as this year's national conventions have so clearly shown. But only the president has the White House available to use as a reward to his or his party's supporters.

And this much we now know: There are more fat cats sleeping in the White House than alligators sleeping in the sewers of New York.

Margaret Ebrahim is the senior associate of the Center for Public Intergity. Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services distributed her article.

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