Coffee klatch Clinton White House chats: President tries to defend visitors' contributions to Democrats.

January 29, 1997

TUPPERWARE AND AMWAY ladies have nothing on Bill Clinton. When it comes to coffee klatches, the president of the United States does as much to boost exports from Brazil as the best saleswomen among them. Over the last two years, according to the latest studies available, 358 visitors who dropped into the White House for a cozy little chat with Mr. Clinton rewarded his Democratic Party with $27,018,553 in "soft money" not subject to legal limitations.

To hear Mr. Clinton tell it at his news conference yesterday, his White House is not for sale. "Nobody buys a guaranteed result nor should they ever. . ," he declared. "I can tell you categorically that no decision ever came out of these coffees when I or anyone else said, 'This person's a contributor of ours; do what they ask us to do'. . . I never made a decision for anybody because they were contributors of mine." As for his guests, he remarked, "You have to ask them what they expect."

While the president said that he was taking "responsibility" for the "errors" and "excess" in campaign financing that have taken place on his watch, he also was quite eager to place the blame on the "system" and "the race to get as much money as you can" and the vast changes in a society "deluged with information" and the obsolescence of existing campaign laws. He then cautioned against "cynicism."

Having waged his last winning campaign in a career marked by fund-raising wizardry since his earliest politicking in Arkansas, Mr. Clinton made it clear he is now eager for reforms to cut off some of the money flow he has been happy to receive. His main pitch is support of the bipartisan bill offered by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that would, among other things, ban the "soft money" that last year fueled the costliest campaign in history. Republicans are wary of this reform because they get a lot more "soft money" than Democrats -- and Mr. Clinton knows it.

The president acknowledged it was wrong to have the comptroller of the currency, Eugene A. Ludwig, show up at a coffee klatch attended by a dozen top banking executives he is supposed to regulate. But he also defended his practice of having lots of "people" come to the White House to give him their insight on issues. One political reformer described these White House visitors not as ordinary folks but "only the fattest of the fat cats."

Pub Date: 1/29/97

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