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Let the Parties Begin--and Bring a Checkbook

Clinton draws marquee names and marquee wallets to a glitzy Brentwood fund-raiser. But the beneficiary is his first lady, not his vice president.


The limousines started up Mandeville Canyon before sundown Saturday, bringing some of Hollywood's biggest pockets and most luminous stars to say goodbye to the Democrat who has charmed them as no other chief executive in decades, President William Jefferson Clinton.

Clinton's supporters--and even a few non-supporters--had paid handsomely for this chance to bid adieu: $1,000 a head to drink cocktails and attend a star-studded concert or $25,000 a couple to stay late and eat dinner. But while the stated goal of the coming week is to rally Democratic Party support for Vice President Al Gore, the money raised at Saturday night's Brentwood fund-raiser--which lured stars as varied as Brad Pitt and Milton Berle--was never intended to help keep a Democrat in the White House.

Instead, it will go to help elect First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to the U.S. Senate from New York.

"If you're for the Democratic Party, in essence it's all going to the same cause," Yvonne Bragg, an administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, reasoned as she waited to walk through the metal detectors at the lavish 112-acre ranch where the Hollywood Gala Salute to the Clintons was getting underway.

A few steps behind Bragg was Nancy Braun, a financial executive (and registered independent) who had dragged her husband, Stan (a Libertarian), all the way from Ojai.

"He didn't want to come," she said, admitting that when the invitation to the gala arrived in the mail, she wondered why. "How they got our names, I don't know. But I said, 'We're not missing this.' Hillary may be the next president--who knows?"

California has been good to Hillary Clinton. In just three previous fund-raising visits since last fall, the first lady has raised more money here than in any other state but New York--$464,150 in so-called hard money through March 31. And that total doesn't include any donations under $200 or the piles of unregulated soft money (about $7 million nationwide) that have been raised jointly with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

By comparison, in the entire 1998 election cycle, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised less than $250,000 in hard-money contributions from the Golden State.

"The fact that she is the first lady of the United States obviously contributes to the breadth of relationships" she has developed in Southern California, said Andy Spahn, who handles governmental relations for DreamWorks SKG. The studio's founders--Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen--have raised close to $1 million in hard and soft money for Hillary Clinton in four separate events.

Spahn stressed that the first lady is drawing on long-standing personal relationships. Geffen, for example, has been close to the Clintons since 1992. But Spahn called "silly" the suggestion that Saturday's fund-raiser for Clinton would siphon off money from the post-convention, pro-Gore bash scheduled for this week.

"Both events are going to sell," he predicted.

In addition to concerns about fund-raising fatigue, however, Clinton's aggressive push here has some worried about the message a flood of Hollywood money sends to New York voters.

"Hillary's success in Southern California raises to new levels the issue of cash constituents versus real constituents," said Ellen Miller, an specialist on campaign finance who is president of Public Campaign, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

The presidential motorcade arrived after 9 p.m., creating on its way a sizable traffic jam in the narrow canyon, and the night quickly turned into a Clinton love fest. One after another, singers Diana Ross, Cher, Toni Braxton and others rose to serenade the first couple. Melissa Etheridge, who made her own lesbianism public at Clinton's 1992 inauguration, thanked the president for "allowing us to come to the table. We will never have to go back to the closet."

As she spoke, the audience--which included celebrities Jennifer Aniston, Jason Alexander, Jenna Elfman, Rod Steiger, Patrick Stewart and Ed Asner--was treated to a close-up of the president, displayed on several huge TV monitors. He was crying.

Later, Clinton rose to thank his supporters for sticking with him and urged them to vote for his wife as well as for the Gore-Joseph Lieberman ticket.

"For me," he said of his White House tenure, "this was not only the greatest honor of my life, but every day--even the bad ones--were good ones."


Times staff writer Alan C. Miller contributed to this story.

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