Nearly one in five “HillRaisers,” the elite big-money fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, have ties to the 1990s fundraising scandal that tarnished her husband’s presidency by offering Democratic donors sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom and other perks inside the White House.
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Forty-nine of the Clintons’ Lincoln Bedroom guests are among the 250 HillRaisers listed on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign Web page, who have pledged to gather, or “bundle,” at least $100,000 in donations. Some have promised to raise $1 million or more for the 2008 campaign, the most costly in U.S. history.
Some of the HillRaisers are longtime friends who have given millions to the Clintons over the years, including Washington socialite Beth Dozoretz, who played a key role in the controversial, last-minute 2000 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.
A Lincoln Bedroom visitor, Mrs. Dozoretz, raised $2 million for Mr. Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, $1 million for the Clinton presidential library and hosted a “rally-around-the-president party” that raised $1 million for Mr. Clinton’s legal defense in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Mrs. Dozoretz dismissed concerns about the overnight visits — raised by Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic primary rivals, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina — saying the Clintons had simply opened up the White House to friends.
“It is an experience that can be extraordinary, and Bill and Hillary Clinton sought to share it with a great number of people,” she told The Washington Times. “They believed the White House was the people’s house, and they shared it with as many people and in as many ways as possible.
“Having friends stay at the White House was in no way a quid pro quo for those who had contributed. No way,” she said.
So far in the 2008 campaign, Mrs. Dozoretz has given $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), $2,300 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $12,650 to other Democrats and $4,200 to Mrs. Clinton, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer did not answer questions e-mailed to the campaign this week about the overnight visits and the HillRaisers. Instead, he responded with an e-mail saying, “The only commitment Hillary Clinton has made is to be the best president she can be for the American people.”
Mrs. Clinton, who has raised more than $118 million so far for her 2008 race, has acknowledged that campaign donors were invited to spend the night in the second-floor Lincoln Bedroom but denied that the visits were in exchange for campaign donations.
“There’s certainly no basis for believing that they are anything other than what they are, which is friends and supporters,” she told reporters in 1996. “There just really isn’t any reason for anybody to raise any questions about it. The Lincoln Bedroom was never sold.”
According to a study by the Committee for Responsive Politics (CRP), a bipartisan watchdog group, 15 of the Lincoln Bedroom guests in 1996 who are now HillRaisers also contributed $130,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate race. Those same high rollers forked over $1.4 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and to other Democratic candidates.
The donations flowed despite complaints that the Lincoln Bedroom mattress was lumpy.
Collectively, according to the records, the Lincoln Bedroom guests, which totaled 938 including spouses and children, contributed $10.2 million to Democrats, including Mr. Clinton, an average of $10,847 each.
Mary Boyle, spokeswoman at Common Cause, a Washington-based campaign-finance watchdog group, said the influence of wealthy special interests in the funding of campaigns has eroded public trust in the nation’s political system and discouraged political participation.
“Sure, we’re always concerned about large donations in presidential races, whether for Hillary Clinton or anyone else,” she said. “Bundlers are the power brokers of this presidential campaign.
“The bottom line is our campaign-finance system is badly broken and must be fixed,” she said. “We need to restore the presidential public-finance system so our presidential races are not so much about who can raise the most money but who has the best ideas, policies, most support among voters.”
‘Caricature of itself’
According to White House records and documents collected during separate Senate and House inquiries, the big donors in the 1996 re-election campaign not only were given overnight accommodations, but they were also ushered into the Oval Office for coffees, lunches and other meetings with Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, took rides on Air Force One, received invitations for golf with the president, got Cabinet members for fundraisers, and were put in touch with top policy-makers throughout the Clinton high command.
Republicans first raised questions about the propriety of the coffees and sleepovers, but so did the Justice Department’s campaign-finance task force.
Its hand-picked chief, federal prosecutor Charles G. LaBella, recommended in July 1998 after a two-year investigation that Attorney General Janet Reno, a Clinton appointee, seek an independent counsel to probe accusations of White House fundraising abuses.
In a 94-page report, Mr. LaBella said the “intentional conduct and the willful ignorance uncovered by our investigations … resulted in a situation where abuse was rampant, and indeed the norm.”
He said White House officials, including the president and the first lady, had a “desperate need to raise enormous sums of money” to offset losses to Republicans in 1994 and relied on the “calculated use of access” to the Clintons “as leverage to extract contributions.”
“At some point, the campaign was so corrupted by bloated fundraising and questionable contributions that the system became a caricature of itself,” Mr. LaBella said.
A November 1997 memo by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said a “core group” of White House and Democratic National Committee officials were involved in “an all-out effort” to raise campaign cash — which led, in part, to the White House coffees and the overnight stays. In the 22-page memo, he said it was “difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel.”
Miss Reno rejected the recommendations.
Mr. LaBella, now in private practice in San Diego, said this week that he could not comment on the Clinton presidential campaign but added that “the report speaks for itself.”
Mrs. Clinton’s HillRaisers are part of a political landscape used by many politicians to bypass federal laws that cap, or limit, contributions. By bundling donations, a single fundraiser can gather contributions from employees, clients, acquaintances and special-interest groups to effectively circumvent federal limits and restrictions.
While the HillRaisers are committed to raising $100,000 each, many have been encouraged by the Clinton campaign to gather as much as $1 million apiece.
Several of them represent large corporations, many of whom do business with the government. Others have been identified as U.S. lobbyists working for foreign governments, including Matthew Bernstein, who represents Dubai and Turkey; John Merrigan, Dubai, Turkey and Ethiopia; Thomas Siebert, the Kurdistan Regional Government; Timothy Chorba, China; Gordon Giffin, Canada; and former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Taiwan.
Mr. Torricelli of New Jersey served a single term in the Senate after 14 years in the House but decided not to seek re-election after being implicated in a bribery and campaign finance scandal involving David Chang, a Korean businessman who was imprisoned.
Other HillRaisers and Lincoln Bedroom guests were William Brandt Jr., a Chicago bankruptcy lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who was investigated and later cleared in a $10,000 per-couple fundraiser he held for Mr. Clinton’s 1996 re-election; and Michael Turpen, former attorney general in Oklahoma investigated but not charged in 1998 in his solicitation from an Indian tribe of a $100,000 donation to the DNC in exchange for coffee with Mr. Clinton at the White House.
At least 16 HillRaisers have given $120,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s political action committee, HILLPAC.
The sleepovers began as part of a re-election strategy by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, who sought to raise $100 million using coffees, overnight stays and other White House perks. The plan was personally approved by Mr. Clinton, who said in a January 1995 handwritten note: “Ready to start overnights right away.”
The White House coffees became so frequent during the Clinton administration that in a Jan. 19, 1996, memo, Evelyn Lieberman, White House deputy chief of staff, notified staff members who routinely briefed the president that they should be “flexible during this period and accept that their briefings may be considerably truncated or eliminated.”
Mrs. Lieberman now serves as chief operating officer of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In his report, Mr. LaBella did not accuse the president, first lady or Mr. Ickes — who served as Mrs. Clinton’s top campaign adviser in her 2000 New York senatorial race — of any criminal acts, but cited a “pattern of conduct worthy of investigation” by an independent counsel.
The report was not made public by the Clinton White House for more than two years, but was released in June 2000 by the House Government Reform Committee.
Former HillRaiser Norman Hsu was sentenced in January to three years in prison in a $60 million fraud. He had raised $850,000 for Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which has since been returned. Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said at the time that the campaign returned the money “out of an abundance of caution.”
WHITE HOUSE SLEEPOVERS
Nearly one in five big-money contributors to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, known as “HillRaisers,” are the same donors who surfaced in a 1996 White House scandal involving sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom and other perks to help re-elect President Clinton. The following are the names of donors who got to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley
Voda “Betsy” Ebeling
Stephen L. Green
Fred P. Hochberg
John “Duke” Kinney
Alan J. Patricof
Gov. Edward G. Rendell
Stanley S. Shuman
Ambassador Carl Spielvogel
Carol Shields Westbrook
The Washington Times