- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2000

About the only difference between (Bill) Clinton fund-raising, circa 1996, and (Hillary) Clinton fund-raising, circa 2000, is that donors today have to provide their own coffee, and the Lincoln Bedroom is no longer a pit stop for those who pony up. The outrageous fact is, many of the names and faces are the same. According to the New York Times, Mrs. Clinton has been tapping deeply into the soft money reserves of dozens of donors whose names ring a bell an alarm bell from the fund-raising scandals of the Clinton-Gore 1996 re-election campaign.

No thanks to Janet Reno's Justice Department, which has repeatedly refused to investigate most such cases, and no thanks to congressional oversight, which has all too often averted its gaze, the White House itself is no longer the venue for the president's unseemly and even illegal bartering of historic prestige for political dollars. We probably have Jay Leno and David Letterman to thank for that. Their once nightly derision of the Clinton-Gore administration's funny-money practices seems to have chastened the administration to the point where it has packed away the tin cups with the White House seals. But opprobrium without penalty has little enduring impact.

And so it is old home week at Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign committees; the soft moneybags are back. Typical is businessman William A. Brandt Jr., an alumnus of both the Lincoln Bedroom and the White House coffees, whose alleged fund-raising improprieties in connection with Mr. Clinton's re-election campaign drew congressional attention, prompting the Senate to request the Justice Department to investigate whether Mr. Brandt had lied to Congress (request denied). Last month in Florida he hosted a tea time fund-raiser (at $2,000 a teacup) for Mrs. Clinton.

Another Lincoln Bedroomie-turned-Hillary donor is Walter Kaye, the insurance executive whose place in history is assured for having helped Monica S. Lewinsky win a White House internship; and John Catsimatidis, the New York supermarket magnate. From the White House coffees of yore, Tilman J. Fertitta, chairman of Landry's Seafood restaurant chain, and John Eddie Williams, a trial lawyer specializing in tobacco suits, joined in Texas last fall to mount fund-raisers for Mrs. Clinton that netted several hundred thousand dollars for both her campaign committee and another committee she has set up with the Senate Democrats. (One explanation for Mrs. Clinton's failure to tip a waitress last week might be that she is accustomed, when eating out, to having people pay her.)

Then there's Farhad Azima, another White House coffee klatcher, who has since become a big donor to Mrs. Clinton's cause. Alas, Mr. Azima, chairman of Aviation Leasing Group, has had his troubles with the Democratic National Committee. In 1997, the DNC returned $143,741 in contributions to Mr. Azima, later reversing itself, apologizing to Mr. Azima, and keeping the money. And who could forget Bernard L. Schwartz, chairman of Loral Space and Communications Corporation? Mr. Schwartz is also back on the Clinton money list. His company may be under investigation by the Justice Department (amazing but true) to determine whether it broke export laws by giving China advanced weapons technology, but Mrs. Clinton has seen fit to accept more than $40,000 from him and his wife, Irene. Then again, she's also accepted money from Sean "Puffy" Combs, the rapper and music producer currently charged in connection with a Manhattan nightclub shooting.

Is it illegal? No. But is it squeaky clean? Does it look good? Hardly. The sad fact is, chronic impropriety, as the tortuous saga of the Clinton-Gore administration teaches us, prompts neither penalty, nor censure, nor even good old-fashioned tongue-clucking. Anything goes so long as the check doesn't bounce.

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