Clinton signed off on inviting donors President OK'd memo to reward backers with personal contact

'Ready to start overnights'

Newfound documents show high level of pressure to get money

February 26, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The idea of inviting wealthy Democratic donors -- or potential donors -- to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House was approved, if not initiated, by President Clinton himself, according to documents released yesterday.

The disclosures put Clinton squarely in the middle of the controversy over the fund-raising methods employed by the Democrats in the 1996 campaign.

Clinton's approval came in a handwritten response to a memo from Terence McAuliffe, finance chairman of the Clinton campaign.

McAuliffe's memo, apparently written in January 1995, made three recommendations intended to reward past contributors and to encourage other big givers to come forward.

McAuliffe suggested that major financial supporters be treated to time with the president at breakfasts, lunches, coffees, morning jogs or golf outings. The president's response was unequivocal.

"Yes, pursue all 3 and promptly -- and get other names of the 100,000 or more, 50,000 or more," Clinton wrote, referring to those who gave more than $100,000 or $50,000.

Apparently reflecting a conversation with Clinton, an unidentified aide scrawled "overnights" on McAuliffe's memo.

Clinton's reply: "Ready to start overnights right away."

Mike McCurry, Clinton's press secretary, insisted yesterday that donations were ever solicited at the White House. The president bristled at the suggestion that he had allowed people to spend the night in the White House solely because they were political donors.

"The Lincoln Bedroom was never sold," he snapped. "They were my friends, and I was proud to have them here. I didn't have any strangers here."

Nevertheless, yesterday's revelations prompted additional calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate political fund-raising abuses.

"Now we know why the White House stonewalled for eight months on the Lincoln Bedroom sleep-over -- it was Clinton's idea from the beginning," said Rep. David M. McIntosh, an Indiana Republican who is investigating the use of a taxpayer-funded White House database for political purposes.

The documents released yesterday by the White House came from the files of Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff. The files, initially subpoenaed by a House committee, illustrate the intense pressure the president, his aides and the Democratic National Committee felt to raise huge sums of money after the party's devastating defeats in the 1994 mid-term elections.

This drive to raise money came straight from the top, the documents show. One Ickes memo shows that Clinton was personally assessing DNC fund-raising letters. In one letter to Ickes and to Douglas Sosnik, then the White House political director, regarding the quality of a DNC mailing, the president scribbled, "It's awful."

Records show the president's 50th birthday celebration in New York was set up as one big fund-raiser, as was a trip by Hillary Rodham Clinton to Puerto Rico.

More questionable are the numerous references throughout the Ickes files to the 100 White House coffees that raised some $27 million from those who attended.

For more than a month, White House officials have insisted that the primary purpose of those gatherings in the White House Map Room was for the president to hear the concerns of a wide-ranging group of Americans.

Memo after memo in the Ickes files, however, discuss the coffees -- from their inception -- as purely fund-raising events.

An Oct. 30, 1995, memo from Richard Sullivan, a DNC finance official, on an upcoming coffee describes its "purpose" simply: "To meet with supporters of the Democratic National Committee."

One memo in the Ickes file discusses "Eight Fundraising Coffees" requested by the DNC from July 1, 1995, through the end of the year. A memo on Jan. 19, 1996, from Evelyn Lieberman, a deputy chief of staff, urges schedulers to add 27 more coffees, noting that "political fundraising is critical."

A July 14, 1996, memo from Peter S. Knight, the Clinton-Gore campaign chairman, places a dollar amount -- $350,000 -- that is expected to be raked in by one coffee. This memo also reveals that the tactic was replicated on the road, in Texas, where the campaign hoped to raise $500,000 for use by Texas Democratic Party.

One memo from Ickes himself states that "the president has agreed to do 3 separate coffees with 20 top fund raisers from around the country at each meeting (for a total of 60 people)."

Although the fund-raising furor has been fueled by news accounts of favors or government policy decisions that may have benefited some of the big donors, nothing in the Ickes memos points even indirectly to any such quid pro quos.

But the Ickes files do contain stark evidence of why the Clinton team felt so pressed for cash. As the four-year election cycle wound to a close, Clinton and his advisers recognized that despite the large sums they were raising, the Republicans were raising even more.

Among the materials released yesterday was a copy of a Republican fund-raising brochure, which was included in a July 1995 memo from Ickes to Clinton. The brochure was intended to show the president that "the Republicans engage in similar activity."

The GOP brochure, produced after the 1994 election, offers barely disguised political advice about the benefits to contributors who help members of Congress retire their campaign debt.

Donors "could find debt retirement contributions not only greatly appreciated, but very beneficial in advancing their short-term and long-term political participation goals," states the Republican brochure.

Included in the brochure is a list of a half-dozen newly elected senators and their debt. Among them was $100,000 owed by Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate committee that is expected to hold major hearings on political fund-raising starting next month.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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