A president with a Midas touch
Clinton has made fund-raising an inextricable part of the presidential job description
WASHINGTON — He's commander in chief, but you could just as well call him fund-raiser in chief.
A more successful rainmaker than any of his presidential predecessors, President Clinton is once again on the sea-bass circuit, headlining 53 political fund-raising events so far this year, according to a Republican tally.
And fund-raising for Mr. Clinton isn't limited only to political campaigns. There's also the first couple's legal defense fund, his presidential library, and a three-day millennium extravaganza at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
While some of these financial activities are unique to the Clinton presidency, political observers say that he has given fund-raising such a high profile in the White House that it will be tough for future presidents not to follow his lead.
"The party in power has come to rely on the president as this atomic weapon of fund-raising. It's the huge advantage they have over the other party. So, if a president decided not to do that, it would put a real crimp in their [the party's] style," says Norman Ornstein, a a campaign-finance expert at the American Enterprise Institute here.
Critics of the president charge that his fund-raising distracts him from his job and cheapens the office.
But there's no doubt that "Clinton has opened a new era in presidential fund-raising," says Larry Makison, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "He's made it part of the job more clearly than anyone else ever did."
Clinton's need for money
Analysts point out that many of Clinton's fund-raising efforts center on circumstances his successors may not face: his historically high legal bills, for instance, his closeness to his vice president, and his wife's expected senatorial bid - a first for a president. But at a minimum, analysts predict, future chief executives - like Clinton - won't be happy with humble presidential libraries that are mere repositories. And neither will their parties want to give up the fund-raising draw that comes from a sitting president, though campaign-finance reform could change that.
Republicans charge that the president has spent so much time shaking the money tree that he's neglected his day job. Last year, a midterm election year, the president logged over 100 fund-raisers, according to a GOP tally. He looks roughly on the same track this year.
"We call him the part-time president," says Mark Pfeifle, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
The White House vigorously denies that he's distracted. A man with an exceptionally high energy level, he's still able to focus on policy despite his packed schedule, it says.
With so much Clinton-related fund-raising going on, analysts say there's certain to be donor fatigue - too many requests chasing the same donors. This may be affecting the Clintons' legal defense fund. While the fund raised $2.4 million in the first half of this year, donations have dropped off since March.
"With so much else going on, with other campaigns starting to kick up, with [impeachment] being out of the news...I think we have started to see a downturn," Anthony Essaye, chairman of the Clintons' legal defense fund, told the media earlier this month.
Yet other Clinton fund-raisers don't see a problem. Skip Rutherford, who is handling the Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., says he'll work a different donor base, though he, too, will appeal to "friends of Bill."
Clinton is barred by law from soliciting donations for his library or legal defense fund, though that didn't stop him from sharing his vision for the library with 40 top executives in Manhattan in June. No funds were sought, but the message was clear enough.
One impression left by all of this fund-raising is that the president and his wife are near-paupers - and, in fact, unlike most presidential pairs, they don't even own a home. But the Clintons won't be penniless when they leave the White House. Ex-presidents receive an annual pension of $151,800.
They also have high earning power, sometimes getting millions for their memoirs. President Reagan reportedly received a $5 million advance for his autobiography. Former presidents can also count on fat speaking fees. President Bush has received up to $100,000 per speech. The Japanese once paid Mr. Reagan $2 million for a few days of his wisdom. And corporations will pay ex-presidents to serve on their boards. President Ford sits on four.
If Mrs. Clinton is elected to the US Senate, she can count on an annual salary of $130,000. If she's not elected, a Manhattan law firm would pay her more.
This earning potential means the Clintons could afford the Westchester County homes they are looking at, which range from $1.7 million to $2.3 million. The monthly payments would run about $17,000 and take an annual income of over $500,000 per year - the amount the Clintons earned last year.
*Ron Scherer, of the Monitor's New York bureau, contributed to this report.
Bill Clinton is engaged in a range of money-generating projects, including:
*Political fund-raising - The president is expected to raise money for his wife's Senate campaign; is in the midst of five fund-raising events for Vice President Al Gore; and is planning four congressional fund-raisers - after already having raised $8 million this year for House and Senate Democrats. The Democratic National Committee has raised $23 million for the party this year, much of it due to Clinton's efforts.
*Legal bills - In the first six months of this year, fund-raisers working on behalf of the Clintons raised $2.4 million. They still owe $5.2 million in unpaid bills.
*Presidential library - Plans are under way to raise $80 million to $125 million for the president's Little Rock, Ark., library. As is the case with his legal-defense fund, Mr. Clinton is legally barred from personal fund-raising for his library.
*Millennium party - The White House is reserving the Washington Mall for a Hollywood-style New Year's party that's open to the public. Cost: as much as $15 million.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society