WASHINGTON -- Less than two months after President Clinton's legal defense fund shut down, his allies unveiled a new fund yesterday that will employ more aggressive fund-raising tactics and accept much larger donations.
The new fund will seek donations, where the previous one passively awaited contributions. Gifts to the original fund were limited to $1,000. The new limit will be ten times that level. But neither Clinton nor Hillary Rodham Clinton will be involved in fund raising.
Ongoing legal battles over sexual misconduct charges, Whitewater, campaign fund raising and the Monica Lewinsky matter have left the Clintons with "enormous and ever-mounting legal expenses," now totaling $3.2 million, said the fund's founder, former Democratic Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas. Trustees raised the specter of a president limping from office virtually bankrupt.
"Make no mistake. We're here to raise money," said Kenneth G. Bartels, a New York real estate investor who will serve as one of the five trustees.
The first fund shut down Dec. 30 after it became ensnared in the fund-raising scandal swirling around foreign donors to the president's re-election campaign. Fund officials were forced to return $640,000 in contributions raised by Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, the Little Rock restaurateur and longtime Clinton friend who was indicted Jan. 29 by a federal grand jury on charges of illegal fund raising. Trie's money, delivered in manila envelopes, was returned because of concerns about its origin.
Critics of the White House's fund-raising tactics said they feared that abuses would be repeated by the managers of the new fund.
Restrictions on donors would not preclude chief executives of corporations with business before the government from contributing to the fund, nor would they prevent the bundling of several small donations into one large one, said Kent Cooper of the Center for Responsive Politics, a group pushing changes in the campaign finance system.
"I don't think they have made [donation regulations] tight enough to meet the smell test," Cooper said.
Clinton critics are unimpressed with the president's financial woes. Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that sued Clinton's first defense fund, said that if Newt Gingrich could swing a $4 million book deal in 1994, Clinton could retire his legal debts "with a very small paperback." "The president should not be playing with fire right now, either ethically or legally," Klayman said. "He will be a millionaire many times over once he leaves office."
Founders of the fund said they would carefully examine every donation to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest.
Contributions will be accepted only from U.S. citizens. No funds can come from lobbyists, corporations, labor unions, political action committees or executive branch employees. And the names of donors and size of contributions will be disclosed at least twice a year.
But fund trustees were unapologetic in their primary motivation: helping the Clintons defray their legal debt. "No person who dedicates time to the service of one's country should walk away virtually bankrupt," said Renee E. Ring, a trustee and New York corporate lawyer.
By the time the first fund closed its doors, contributions had virtually dried up. The president immediately asked White House lawyers to explore new options to raise money.
White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff contacted an old friend, attorney Anthony F. Essaye, who enlisted Pryor, a longtime Clinton friend. Essaye will be the fund's executive director. The high-powered law firm Arnold & Porter will serve as the fund's legal counsel at the request of former White House counsel Jack Quinn, one of the firm's top lawyers.
Terence R. McAuliffe, a former national finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, said yesterday that he would be "quarterbacking" the fund-raising effort. McAuliffe drew a scathing rebuke in the Senate Republicans' draft report on the DNC's fund-raising tactics.
Pub Date: 2/19/98