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Clinton to Serve as Advisor to Burkle

Financial services: The ex-president will work for the political patron's private equity firm.

April 12, 2002|LISA GIRION | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former President Clinton has been hired to help advise his magnate friend and political patron Ron Burkle on investments.

Clinton was hired as a senior advisor to Yucaipa Cos., Burkle's Los Angeles-based private equity firm. Clinton's services will include advising a Yucaipa investment fund aimed at buoying underserved urban and rural markets, an effort that parallels a policy initiative the former president launched from the White House.

Clinton won't have an office or keep regular hours at Yucaipa, company spokesman Ari Swiller said Thursday.

But the former president will attend meetings and conferences and promote a pair of funds, including the Yucaipa Corporate Initiatives Fund.

A year ago, Yucaipa Corporate Initiatives won the opportunity to invest $200 million in California Public Employees' Retirement System funds in low-income communities in an effort aimed at spurring economic development.

As president, Clinton touted such socially responsible investing through his New Markets Initiative.

"He will be able to articulate and visualize for people how best to make this work," Swiller said. "We're excited both to use his mind and to use the opportunity for him to help us bring people together."

Clinton's New York office issued a statement, saying he agreed to the position because of the company's commitment to invest in untapped domestic markets.

Yucaipa won't say what the former president will earn in his new role.

Clinton, who operates out of a publicly funded office in Harlem, left office facing $3.9 million in legal fees related to his impeachment hearings and other probes.

He is under contract to write his memoirs for a reported $10 million and is believed to earn $125,000 to $250,000 for each appearance and speech he makes around the world. He also receives a presidential pension of $161,200 a year.

Landing the former leader of the free world was a marketing and public relations coup for Burkle, a former supermarket magnate who co-hosted the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and teamed with star agent Michael Ovitz in a bid to bring a professional football franchise to the city.

While president, Clinton frequently visited Burkle during trips to Southern California. Burkle has contributed to both parties.

"His association certainly would help draw attention to the Yucaipa Cos.," said Jim Mitchell of Mitchell Partners, an investment partnership based in Costa Mesa. "Right now, they are not particularly well-known in the investment community, so there could be an immediate plus."

Yucaipa was the vehicle that Burkle used to acquire grocery chains Food4Less and Ralphs, which he later sold.

Last fall, former Vice President Al Gore joined another Los Angeles-based private investment firm as vice chairman, a role in which he was expected to open doors and drum up investors.

Similarly, Clinton's value is in his list of contacts and his virtually unlimited entree in political and business circles, said Jeffrey Christian, founder of Christian & Timbers, a Cleveland-based executive recruiting firm.

Plus, at 55, Clinton has plenty of steam, he said.

"This is a guy who can be incredibly effective," Christian said. "He is someone who oozes confidence and is kind of fun to be around. He is somebody people are going to enjoy doing business with."

But University of Virginia political science professor Larry J. Sabato bemoaned Clinton's foray into the business world as the latest example of modern-day presidents trading the cachet of the Oval Office for lucrative book deals, speeches and other moneymaking opportunities.

"All the presidents get enormous speaking fees for a set, pat speech," Sabato said. "I've told my students we shouldn't pay presidents. They should pay us for the privi- lege of serving in office because everyone enriches himself after office."

Because of his youthful exit from public life, Clinton faces a greater opportunity to make money than other former presidents, Sabato said.

"Clinton's shooting for great wealth, and he's likely to get it," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he were worth tens of millions in 10 years."

Sabato also said he found it odd that Clinton would land a role in an investment company given his involvement in the scandal-plagued Whitewater real estate investment deal.

Yucaipa's Swiller accused Sabato of having a selective memory.

"Professor Sabato forgets that Clinton was president for eight years during a record economic boom," he said.

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