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'Million-Dollar Bill' Earns Name

Democrats: Clinton's a natural when it comes to raising campaign money, having attended 200 events this year and brought in $100 million for his party.


OAKLAND — Call him the fund-raiser in chief. Or the cash man. Or "Million-Dollar Bill."

Whatever nickname you use, President Clinton is the most prodigious gatherer of campaign contributions ever to occupy the White House.

This year alone, he has attended a staggering 200 events--presidential dinners, coffees and sessions over appetizers--that have amassed more than $100 million.

Clinton, who grew up in modest circumstances in Arkansas, is the very portrait of relaxed affability when he visits the castle-like mansions of mega-millionaires. He is never embarrassed to ask total strangers for big checks.

He "likes to mingle with ambitious, successful people," said Herbert Alexander, a campaign finance expert and professor emeritus at USC.

"Most of the people who are at these . . . events are well-heeled," Alexander said. "I think he's taken to it like a duck to water. He enjoys the mingling just as much as the people who give like to rub shoulders with the president."

Strategists Appealed for Clinton's Help

Clinton's role as the Democrats' champion fund-raiser was especially vital for the party this year. With Al Gore locked in a tight presidential race and the party needing substantial financial resources for House and Senate campaigns, Democratic strategists appealed to the president to scoop up the cash.

Clinton "put a lot of effort into it, and he's still the best fund-raiser," said one veteran strategist with ties to the Democratic National Committee.

The president's relentless schedule--sometimes making appearances at three or four events in a single day--has gone a long way this year in helping the DNC and the congressional party committees break all their records for fund-raising.

On his two-day California excursion Thursday and Friday, the president's ease in moving between vastly different kinds of audiences was apparent.

At get-out-the-vote rallies in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, he exhorted cheering crowds to go to the polls in large numbers on election day.

And at private events, Clinton harvested contributions from well-heeled Democrats. After Friday's rally in Oakland, some contributors to Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) met with the president behind closed doors for a session of hand-shaking and picture-taking, White House officials said.

Thursday had featured a veritable bonanza of cash-gathering at four events in the Los Angeles area. In the afternoon, Clinton stopped for a half-hour reception for the California state Democratic Party at the Regency Club in Westwood. The event raised $250,000 from about 20 elite givers.

That evening, after holding forth at a rally at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the president whisked through three more fund-raisers. At the Gerrie Schipske for Congress reception, guests were asked to contribute $1,000 apiece. Organizers expected to collect $150,000 for the candidate, who is seeking to defeat Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Long Beach).

Then came a reception for Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Visalia), where 100 guests were expected to give at least $1,000 each. Dooley, from the Central Valley's agricultural heartland, "represents a totally different district, lots of big farms," the president noted. "Some of the farms in Cal's district are almost as large as [the] backyard" of the opulent Los Angeles estate where the event was being held, the president joked. "Yes, Cal said he'll bring a tractor next time he comes to see you here."

The evening's final event was a $1,000-per-person reception aimed at raising $100,000 for Jane Harman, who is seeking to unseat Rep. Steven T. Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes).

Coffees, Sleepovers Helped in '96 Drive

More than any other Democrat of his era, Clinton has understood and acted on the link between successful fund-raising and success on election day.

In his enthusiasm to be reelected in 1996, his White House participated in an all-out effort to pull in the dollars. He courted donors at coffees and through sleepovers at the White House, which were widely criticized as the selling of the American people's house.

Although the campaign finance scandals of 1996 left the Democratic Party in dire financial straits, Clinton kept up a steady schedule of fund-raising early in his second term, even though there was no election in sight.

President Reagan was also a very engaged fund-raiser, but he was president before the explosion in so-called soft money--the unregulated, unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, organizations and wealthy individuals.

Clinton and his ace fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, enjoy asking people for money, Alexander said. "They get a kick out of it. They're not wringing their hands and saying the worst thing they have to do is raise money. Clinton doesn't see it as demeaning, and he seems to enjoy it."


Rosenblatt reported from Oakland and Shogren from Washington.

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