Clinton defends White House fund-raising

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton defended White House fund-raising tactics as “entirely appropriate” Wednesday, asserting there was never any illegal solicitation of money at the executive mansion and “no price tag on the events.”
A day after the disclosure of documents putting Clinton at the center of all-out fund-raising efforts, the president readily acknowledged he had hoped that White House coffees and other meetings with potential donors would result in contributions.
“Of course we did,” the president said. However, he said there was no fund raising at the events themselves. Fund raising on federal property is illegal.
Clinton was peppered with questions about campaign money during a joint news conference with President Eduardo Frei of Chile, who was making a state visit to the White House. Despite substantial interest in that visit, White House officials resigned themselves to more intense media attention on the president’s enthusiastic efforts to bring in campaign contributions.
Big money donors were sprinkled among the dignitaries at the state dinner, as well. They included the presidents of two unions that each gave the Democratic Party more than $1 million for the 1996 election.
Also invited was former assistant secretary of state Bernard Aronson, now with Goldman Sachs, a company that ranks among the Democratic Party’s top donors. Goldman Sachs and its executives contributed $542,500 to party over the past two years.
The president refused to endorse bipartisan calls for an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising questions. “That is a decision for the attorney general to make. It should not be a political decision,” Clinton said.
Attorney General Janet Reno, during an appearance on Capitol Hill, said she had “not received evidence that under the law would justify the appointment of an independent counsel. But as we proceed with the very comprehensive investigation that we now have under way, should there be a basis for the independent counsel, I will request it.”
Among hundreds of documents released Tuesday, one memo showed that Clinton himself endorsed rewards — including overnight stays in the Lincoln and Queen’s bedrooms — for top donors. “Ready to start overnights right away,” Clinton wrote, instructing aides to assemble names of donors who gave $50,000 and $100,000.
In all, 938 guests stayed at the White House during Clinton’s first four years in office.
“The vast majority, I think almost seven-eighths of them, are people that I had relationships with that were independent of my campaign for president in ’92,” Clinton said. “But some people did come and stay with me who helped me, and I think that’s entirely appropriate.”
“I don’t think people who support you and help you through tough times and who believe in what you’re doing should be disqualified from being the president’s guest at the White House,” he said.
He said the costs were not paid by taxpayers. And he denied that any fund-raising activities came close to skirting — or went over — the line of what is legal.
“We got strict advice about — legal advice about what the rules were and everyone involved knew what the rules were,” the president said. “Did we hope that the people that came there would support me … particularly after we got into a political season, we were doing this? Of course we did.”