July 7, 1995 in Nation/World

Money Talks With Democrats, Too

John M. Broder Los Angeles Times
 

The Democratic National Committee is offering to sell private dinners with President Clinton, places on foreign trade missions and other forms of exclusive access to senior officials to party donors willing to pony up $100,000 or more.

In a recent fund-raising letter, the party offered big contributors a pricey catalog of favors, including dinners with the President and Vice President Al Gore, high-level briefings, places on foreign trade missions, VIP status at the Democratic National Convention and a “personal DNC staff contact” to help cut through red tape in the Washington bureaucracy.

Lesser donors get lesser privileges, such as lunch with Tipper Gore, the vice president’s wife. For only $1,000, a donor can get an invitation to events with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tipper Gore, and female political appointees, according to the letter, which was first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The high-roller solicitation comes just weeks after Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., promised during a public forum in New Hampshire to create a bipartisan commission that would recommend ways to clean up campaign financing practices and end the sale of influence and access in Washington.

It also flies in the face of then-candidate Clinton’s 1992 pledge in his campaign manifesto “Putting People First” to end the “cliques of $100,000 donors” buying access to Congress and the White House.

Republicans have long rewarded big-dollar donors with access to top officials, including membership in exclusive clubs such as the Eagles’ Forum or Team 100, which entitle big-dollar donors to private receptions with top party leaders. But but critics said the new Democratic letter had taken the practice to new lows of influence peddling and assailed Clinton for making specific promises of places at the presidential dinner table and on government-sponsored trade missions.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mary Mead Crawford said Thursday that she reviewed years of GOP fund-raising letters and had not found any that offered such specific promises of access.

“This is outrageous,” said Ann McBride, president of Common Cause, a non-partisan campaign finance watchdog group. “They’re auctioning off access to the president of the United States to the highest bidder.”

A White House aide defended the practice as legal under current campaign financing laws and as a legitimate use of incumbency.

“Until the system is changed, we will not unilaterally disarm,” said DNC chairman Don Fowler.

The Democratic fund-raising letter, mailed late last month over the signatures of Fowler and general party chairman Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, offers to make $100,000 donors “managing trustees” of the party.

The contribution entitles the donor to two meals with the president, two meals with the vice president and honored guest status at the 1996 Democratic Convention.


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