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Cash-for-Coffee Events at White House Detailed

Politics: Zeal to raise funds transformed once-modest sessions into major money-makers, accounts indicate.

February 24, 1997|GLENN F. BUNTING and RALPH FRAMMOLINO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Citing privacy concerns, they have refused to release the names to Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.), chairman of a House subcommittee investigating political use of a White House computer database.

Invitation Lists Include Celebrities

However, a copy of the dinner list obtained by The Times, dubbed "PDL" in the computer, shows nearly 900 celebrities and donors targeted for dinner invitations at the Executive Mansion. They included Hollywood stars such as Glenn Close and Lauren Bacall; athletes such as Mickey Mantle and Jack Nicklaus; and major DNC contributors such as film mogul Steven Spielberg, who has raised millions of dollars for Democrats, New York businessman Dirk Ziff, who gave $380,000 to the DNC during the past two years, and San Francisco businessman Walter Shorenstein, who donated $285,000.

"The fact is that Clinton enjoys having interesting, bright, successful people into the residence for dinner," McCurry said. He added, "The dinners also were a perk that were given to people who had demonstrated some level of support or success in building support."

But no donor perk was marketed more aggressively than the coffees. Four current or former DNC fund-raisers told The Times that committee finance staffers were instructed to try to turn invitations into donations of up to $50,000, although many recipients wound up paying considerably less. The Times reported earlier this year that donors who attended the coffees contributed a total of $27 million to the Democratic National Committee during the 1995-96 election cycle.

Many of the donors approached were wealthy entrepreneurs from New York and Florida, said the fund-raisers, who asked to remain anonymous. Some got invitations if they gave generously to Clinton's 50th birthday party last August at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

The cash-for-coffee solicitations were made under the direction of former DNC Finance Chairman Marvin Rosen, who made some of the $50,000 pitches himself, the fund-raisers said.

"I can't count the number of times I heard, 'Tell them they can come to a coffee with the president for $50,000,' " said one fund-raiser who worked under Rosen. "It was routine. In fact, when [staffers] said, 'This is all I can raise,' they were told, 'Keep selling the coffees.' "

Rosen, who resigned his post in December, declined to return numerous calls seeking comment. His personal spokeswoman, Marina Ein, said: "His mission was to raise money. . . . I have no reason whatsoever to believe he did anything improper or inappropriate."

Several longtime donors were reportedly so angry with the heavy-handed tactics in the fund-raising operation that they complained to Democratic officials, according to party insiders.

Among those who reportedly expressed their dismay was Elaine Schuster, of Continental Wingate Co. in Boston, who contributed $35,000 to the DNC on Dec. 15, 1995--the same day she attended a coffee with Clinton in the Roosevelt Room. According to a DNC official, Schuster told party officials that she was furious about the direct solicitation she got. She declined to return repeated calls to her office.

The presidential access given to the donors angers some members of Congress, who say they hardly got any.

"The idea that others . . . simply because they've given large sums of money--have, in effect, more access to the president than we do is not only troubling, but offensive," said a Democratic lawmaker who left office in January.

Former Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who retired this year after 12 terms, said she had never been invited to the White House for an informal chat.

Yet those at the coffee klatches got plenty of time to air their views with Clinton and Gore.

Jonathan Slade, a Washington lobbyist for MWW/Strategic Communications of New Jersey, attended a reception with Gore in the Executive Office Building on May 2, 1996. The year before, Slade was hired to help obtain a visa for Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko even though the State Department had accused the African leader's security forces of torture and "extrajudicial killings" and despite Clinton's ban against any Zairian official entering the United States. Mobutu did not get a visa. Slade emphasized his work on the Mobutu visa lasted only a month.

Records show that Slade's firm gave $4,400 to the DNC in the months before and after the coffee.

Roger Tamraz, whose New York-based oil company gave $50,000 to the DNC, had coffee with Gore on Oct. 5, 1995, and Clinton on April 1, 1996. Tamraz is a former financier wanted on a 1989 international warrant stemming from his tenure as the head of one of Lebanon's largest banks. The bank collapsed and Lebanese officials want him on charges of conspiracy and embezzlement--charges Tamraz has characterized as "harassment."

Clinton Says One Guest Was 'Inappropriate'

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