How Clinton was sold to raise $70 million White House papers detail fund raising

April 03, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Democratic fund-raisers looked upon President Clinton as a cash cow whose presence at campaign-year events would help the party raise $70 million from wealthy donors in 1996, according to documents released yesterday by the White House.

The documents are among 1,200 pages of campaign memos and other notes from the files of Harold M. Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff. They are the second batch of his papers to be made public.

Together, the papers help sketch the most complete portrait to date of a White House racked by election anxiety and preoccupied by the idea that Clinton's re-election depended on a prodigious fund-raising operation. They show how Clinton exerted great pressure on his subordinates to raise larger and larger sums, and how the president, in turn, was pressured by them.

A February 1996 memo from Ickes to Clinton and Vice President Al Gore said that raising the amount of money envisioned "will require a very substantial commitment of time from the president, the vice president, the first lady and Mrs. Gore."

The words "very substantial" were underlined, and this question was posed by Ickes: "Are they willing to commit that amount of time?"

Another document suggests that they were: It lists 117 fund-raisers held by the president in the first 10 months of 1996.

The latest batch of Ickes documents was released one day after White House aides revealed that two of Clinton's most trusted aides -- Erskine B. Bowles, the chief of staff, and Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, who formerly held that job -- had made phone calls to try to line up employment for Webster L. Hubbell after Hubbell resigned his top post in the Justice Department.

Hubbell was later imprisoned after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. Whitewater prosecutors are investigating whether the $400,000 to $500,000 that Hubbell was paid by Clinton allies was designed to discourage cooperation with the special counsel's office in its investigation of the Clintons.

In an interview in his White House office yesterday, Bowles acknowledged that he barely knew Hubbell when he made three phone calls on his behalf in the spring of 1994, and did so only when informed that Hubbell was in financial difficulty.

But Bowles stressed that he had no way of knowing that Hubbell's troubles, which began as a dispute over billing practices with his former law firm, were headed to the criminal courts.

"My understanding was that this was just a misunderstanding with his law firm," Bowles said. "I did this as a courtesy for a person who had lost his job, who had a family to support and children to put through school. There's nothing else to it."

Bowles, who at the time headed the Small Business Administration, phoned two North Carolina lawyers he knows, as well as Will Dunbar, an executive with Allied Capital, a venture capital firm that makes SBA-backed loans.

Asked whether he thought that might have been a conflict of interest, Bowles shook his head and indicated that Dunbar was tapped mainly because he was a friend and former business associate whom Bowles knew well enough to ask a favor.

Neither Dunbar nor the other Bowles contacts hired Hubbell. And before the Hubbell matter arose, Bowles had recused himself from decisions regarding Allied Capital, a Bowles aide later said.

The entire incident, Bowles stressed, simply stemmed from his attempt to do a good turn.

"I've spent my life doing that for other people," he said. "I learned from my daddy, you help people when they are down; they don't need your help when they're up."

The Ickes documents, requested by congressional committees investigating Democratic fund raising, provide a glimpse of the workings of the Clinton team. Despite being separate entities as demanded by campaign financing law, the White House, the Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee functioned as one, the papers show.

Detailed estimates of how much would be raised at each breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, formal gala or late-night "saxophone" session were included in Ickes files -- regardless of whether they were campaign events or official presidential appearances.

The estimates were based on a sliding scale, depending on the nature of the event, the location, the audience, and whether Clinton, his wife or one of the Gores was the featured attraction. A luncheon in Nashville was to raise $150,000; a March dinner in Detroit $500,000; an April dinner at a private home in Baltimore $600,000; a Los Angeles gala featuring Barbra Streisand, a month before the election, $3 million.

The largest event was Clinton's 50th birthday party in New York in August, which took in $8 million.

One estimate never changed, however. The presidential fund-raising coffees, at which an average of eight guests were invited, were always expected to raise $400,000, though some took in more. Several attendees have said there was a price tag for admission to the coffees of $50,000.

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