They live on streets like Park Avenue, develop golf courses for a living and hang out with politicians for fun. And with at least $50,000 to spare, they are the lifeblood of the cash-starved, scandal-plagued Democratic Party.
For two unprecedented days, at a five-diamond hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, they are eating, dancing, fishing and talking policy with two of the most powerful men in the free world.
Never before has a sitting president and his No. 2 devoted a weekend to schmoozing with their most generous political donors. But as President Clinton is demonstrating with a renewed vigor, he is unapologetic about wooing the people who fuel the modern political system.
“To hear people tell it, the very act of getting people to support you is somehow suspect,” he said at a dinner Friday, assuring donors who had paid $10,000 a couple that he was “proud” of their support.
Aides say the second-term president has never wavered in his belief that political giving is a virtue. But, increasingly worried that his legacy may be a debt-ridden Democratic Party, he is maintaining a hectic, highly visible fund-raising schedule. Rather than embarrass him, the barrage of allegations appear to have emboldened Clinton.
Although he made a pitch for his free-trade proposal in Palm Beach, Clinton’s visit has been dominated by golf and fund-raising. By the time Air Force One lifts off the tarmac in Jacksonville today, his two-day tally will stand at: 27 holes of golf, about $3.5 million raised for Democratic causes and four meals with some of the richest people in America.
About 50 contributors gave the party $50,000 to join Clinton and Vice President Gore at the Ritz Carlton, a beachfront property where the presidential suite goes for $1,500.
Initially, the Democratic National Committee insisted the weekend would be closed to reporters and the names of participants would be kept secret. Although they still refuse to release a list of names, officials did open the meetings, attempting to generate some good publicity along with the $2.5 million raised. “This is the most open political fund-raiser America’s ever had,” said Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who is head of the DNC.
In a boisterous luncheon speech, he said the Republicans exulting in “an orgasm of righteousness” over the fund-raising scandal are displaying the “height of hypocrisy.” He noted that next week, when Republicans hold similar high-priced donor festivities in Washington, they will be private.