WASHINGTON — "No time to explain. This is a crisis. I'm in Little Rock completing my investigation of the murder of Vince Foster. I need your help."
That scrawled note on Holiday Inn stationery two months ago was another reminder to 86-year-old Aileen West of McMinnville, Ore., that the intrepid Ronald Wilcox is still on the Foster case. Wilcox had written her earlier about death threats and a dramatic meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I insisted on meeting in a public place (for obvious reasons)," he wrote of a meeting the White House says did not occur. "This is a dangerous woman. . . . I prepared for vicious battle. And then, there we were. She was seated with a crowd of paid bodyguards around her. . . . Years of work, of sleepless nights and attempts on my life, all came down to this moment. . . . 'Mrs. Clinton,' I said in a loud voice . . . 'I will not make any deals with the White House.' A gasp, her anger turned to fury, and I continued: 'I will not rest until you and your husband are in jail.' "
With letters like these, Wilcox and his organization, the "Clinton Investigative Commission," raised more than $1 million last year from West and thousands of other people around the country eager to see the commission's work continue, its backers say.
But what is that work exactly? And who is Ronald Wilcox?
The commission's executive director, Wilcox claims to be a nationally known political commentator who informs donors about what he learns from "people in the know" about the probe into the former White House deputy counsel's July 1993 death. "I have talked to the top person on the Vince Foster investigation," he said in a telephone interview. "I can't say who that is--I will end up in a body bag."
In a recent mailing, he described the commission as "the most important player in the entire Whitewater/Foster saga." Others question that description. "Never heard of them," said Richard Viguerie, a conservative direct-mail fund-raiser.
"I've never seen them, run across them, heard of them," said congressional investigator David Bosse, a onetime employee of Citizens' United, another anti-Clinton group that uses direct-mail fund-raising.
The commission's founder, Eugene Delgaudio, said people who are unaware of the group's activities "obviously are not in the loop on Whitewater."
Plenty of people have heard of Delgaudio, a longtime proponent of political theater. He is executive director of Fairfax, Va.-based Public Advocate of the U.S., a $1-million-a-year direct-mail organization currently agitating against gay rights: A recent mailer put out under Delgaudio's wife's name said the family has been so harassed by a "radical homosexual PAC" that their children have been forced into hiding.
"We do take on some bizarre if not singularly cutting issues--some issues no one else will take," Delgaudio said. He recalled the day he presented the Reagan White House with petitions in support of Interior Secretary James Watt, who had just issued his famous slur about "a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple."
Delgaudio has marshaled such nuisance protest groups in the past as "Deserters for Dukakis" and the "Senator Kennedy Swim Team."
These days, he and Wilcox have tapped into serious money. Public Advocate, which has tax-exempt status, reported raising just over $1 million in 1994, the last year for which its tax returns are available.
But neither the Clinton Investigative Commission nor its parent group, the Council of Volunteer Americans, is tax-exempt, and neither is registered to solicit money in Oregon, where West gets her mail, or in Virginia, which state laws require. They make no public accounting of their fund-raising. All three organizations have operated at various times out of the same one-room office in Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb.
Delgaudio said that the commission and its parent group raised more than $1 million in 1995 and that nearly all of it is spent for petition drives, news conferences, investigations and direct-mail fund-raising. Delgaudio said he earns $60,000 a year as Public Advocate's executive director. Wilcox declined to say how much he makes as the Clinton Investigative Commission's executive director. The commission's most recent undertaking was staging a demonstration on Capitol Hill featuring "File Man"--someone costumed as a rifled accordion file folder--to draw attention to the Clinton White House files controversy.
Delgaudio and Wilcox say they have delivered 150,000 petitions to Congress and take credit for the continuing investigation of the circumstances surrounding Foster's apparent suicide in July 1993. His death has spawned a virtual cottage industry of conspiracy theorists who contend he was murdered.
"I blew the Whitewater hearings wide open with my open accusations against the Clintons," wrote Wilcox in a recent mailing. "Washington was in an uproar."
The same letter chronicled the alleged meeting with Hillary Clinton that White House spokesman Mark Fabiani said never happened. "The allegations of a meeting are as bizarre as they are false," he said.
When the alleged meeting was over, Wilcox wrote, "My associate and I then turned and strode out of the meeting, leaving a bitter and vengeful Hillary Clinton and her high-priced bodyguards. . . . From my experience in these matters, I knew that confronting a criminal is sometimes the only way to break a case wide open. . . . Vince Foster, whatever his crimes, did not deserve to die . . . but Vince Foster got in Bill Clinton's way."
Neither Wilcox nor Delgaudio--the aforementioned "associate"--will say where the supposed meeting took place, but Delgaudio said it occurred on a Monday, perhaps in February. "I'm standing by the letter--he met with Hillary Clinton. I rest my case," said Delgaudio.