President Clinton personally approved a plan in early 1995 to reward big campaign contributors with a variety of personal favors, including overnight stays at the White House, meals and coffees with him and other intimate social contacts, newly released White House documents reveal.
“Ready to start overnights right away,” Clinton scrawled in a note responding to a memo from chief Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe, in which he urged aides to move forward “promptly” with the program. The note directs aides to “give me the top 10 list back” and to “get other names at 100,000 or more, 50,000 or more.” White House aides confirmed that the reference was to donors and the dollar amounts they had contributed.
The White House also released a list Tuesday of 938 people who have slept in the executive mansion at the first family’s invitation during the four years since Clinton became president - a rate of more than four guests per week. Clinton said that those who “helped raise funds for me were a small percentage of the total,” but campaign finance records indicate many of those invited were major donors to him or his party.
The documents also demonstrate that the 103 White House coffee klatches involving Clinton and supporters held during 1995 and 1996 clearly were regarded by party and White House officials as fund-raising events - even to the point that some carried specific dollar goals.
The revelations suggest the Clinton campaign apparatus may have edged beyond the law prohibiting use of the White House to solicit funds for political activities. “It is clear that they used the White House for fund-raising purposes,” said Kent Cooper, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry acknowledged Tuesday that the coffees “were related to the effort to build financial support for the party.” But he denied that the White House violated the law, saying technically a fund-raiser requires the purchase of a ticket.
“These were not events in which you had to buy a ticket to get in, nor was there any solicitation of funds made by the president at the occasion, and that’s why they were not fund-raisers,” McCurry said.
Nevertheless, the more than 1,000 attendees of the 103 coffees contributed $27 million to the Democratic National Committee, many within days of attending the event.
The revelations in the documents appeared to raise the long-simmering scandal over Democratic fund raising during the 1996 campaign to a new level of intensity by placing the controversy directly at the president’s feet, eroding the credibility of previous administration explanations that had laid the blame for the scandal on overzealous party operatives and raising new questions about whether laws forbidding political fund raising on government property were violated.
They also led to renewed calls from Capitol Hill for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal, something Attorney General Janet Reno has resisted. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said such an appointment now “clearly … is warranted” and said a planned Senate investigation might be sidetracked if Reno acceded to that request. “It’s certainly an unseemly thing,” Lott said of the new revelations.
And the documents, which were from the files of former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, seemed certain to raise fresh questions about whether he had improperly involved himself in fund raising while serving at the White House. They showed that Ickes was deeply involved in the operational details of fund raising, to the point of recommending how proceeds from fund-raisers should be divided between the national and state parties and to which bank accounts a prospective contributor could wire his or her donations.
Clinton and his aides adamantly insisted that no laws were broken and said the program he approved was merely an effort to reach out to old friends and supporters who had complained of feeling ignored during the early years of Clinton’s tenure. “The Lincoln bedroom was never sold,” an agitated Clinton said Tuesday in response to questions about the documents, referring to one of the White House bedrooms where visitors slept.
Other White House officials contended that, despite multiple references in the documents to the White House coffees as “fund raisers,” the meetings technically were not in violation of laws forbidding political solicitations on government property.
xxxx OVERNIGHT GUESTS Here are some of the more prominent people who have been overnight guests at the White House:
Actors and actresses Candice Bergen Chevy Chase Ted Danson Richard Dreyfuss Jane Fonda Tom Hanks Christine Lahti James Naughton Mary Steenbergen Rita Wilson Media executives David Geffen Peter Guber Norman Jewison Steven Spielberg Ted Turner Singers Judy Collins Kathleen Battle Barbra Streisand Authors and playwrights Doris Kearns Goodwin Neil Simon Former presidents George Bush Jimmy Carter Former, current governors Evan Bayh (Indiana) John Y. Brown (Kentucky) Lawton Chiles (Florida) John Kitzhaber (Oregon) Richard Lamm (Colorado) Mike Lowry (Washington) Ann Richards (Texas)