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  •   California Is Golden for Clinton

    By Bill McAllister
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, September 27, 1998; Page A29

    SAN JOSE, Calif., Sept. 26—Hundreds of protesters were chanting outside, but the words inside for President Clinton were warm and admiring. They called him "The Commander of Geeks," and then handed him $650,000 for Democratic campaigns -- more money than executives from Silicon Valley had given Clinton in his two previous political fund-raising trips to the region.

    Some high-tech leaders may have shunned last night's gathering at the newly created Tech Museum of Innovation in anger over the president's conduct with Monica S. Lewinsky, but the computer entrepreneur who hosted the event, TechNet co-founder John Doerr, called it "the most successful fund-raiser," adding, "Silicon Valley is proud to be with you."

    What made the success of Friday night's $25,000-a-couple gathering particularly remarkable to some here was not that it came in the midst of a congressional inquiry that could lead to Clinton's impeachment, but rather that it came just before the president flew south to Los Angeles for a $400,000 fund-raiser hosted by a man much-hated in this land of computer nerds and high-tech wizards -- attorney William Lerach.

    Lerach, a major Democratic contributor is regarded as the king of securities-action lawsuits, litigation that has won him few friends among the corporate elite who dined here Friday night with Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton. When a stock falls in price, many executives here say they fear a Lerach lawsuit is not far behind.

    Today, it was Lerach at Clinton's side for a Democratic Business Council lunch raising $400,000 in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego. "Look," Lerach told the group, "it's time for Democrats, fund-raisers, officeholders to roll up their sleeves and go to work and stand up to an ugly witch hunt to drive from office one of the best and most popular presidents in history."

    "Mr. President, don't have a broken spirit. Don't resign. . . . You stay in there, and you fight," Lerach said to applause, and called Clinton "the real comeback kid."

    "I can't tell you how much it means to me what you've said," Clinton said, then launched into what has become his standard attack on Congress for neglecting his initiatives.

    In 1995 Clinton sided with Lerach by vetoing a bill limiting shareholder rights for such lawsuits against corporate managers, a potential fatal blow to Clinton's aspirations for friendship in Silicon Valley. But Clinton quickly realized the dangers of this move and switched sides after a $50,000-a-plate dinner in the Valley. He has been viewed as a Silicon Valley booster ever since and has made it a key part of his fund-raising strategy to convince executives here that they need a friend in the White House.

    With friends like Lerach, how does Clinton do it? One White House strategist said today the executives have gotten to know Clinton "on a personal level" and feel comfortable with him. For his part, Clinton has made clear, the aide said, that he views the executives as key players in the nation's future. "He's not a computer geek . . . . but he believes that they are pioneers in a way."

    Friday night, as he spoke to the high-tech executives Clinton made clear that both he and Vice President Gore want to be regarded as the strongest friends that Silicon Valley has in Washington. He specifically noted that he again is a strong supporter of legislation, now in a House-Senate conference committee, that once again would supposedly slow the ability of individual shareholders to file class-action lawsuits.

    Clinton's 1995 veto of legislation that Lerach opposed may have temporarily cost him support among the high-tech executives but he went to lengths to note he backs a number of measures sought by the high-tech community. He noted that he supports changes in immigration policy that will allow more high-tech workers into the United States, that he has moved to accommodate the industry's concerns over computer encryption policies, that he supports legislation that would bar local taxes from the Internet, and supports measures to give U.S. corporations greater control over intellectual property.

    Clinton also gave the executives assurance that he shares their worries over the collapse of Asian financial markets, an issue of concern to many California companies with interestes in the Pacific Rim. Those concerns may appeal to the wonkish side of Clinton but Friday night he walked away with lots of hard cash for his efforts.

    His appearance here and that of Hillary Clinton at a San Francisco fund-raiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) earlier Friday were greeted by several hundred protesters. Some carried fake cigars and placards demanding he resign or be impeached. "Kick Clinton Out" and "Visualize Impeachment" were two placards signed "Soccer Mom."

    At the evening fund-raiser, Clinton made his first public comments of his three-day trip about his troubles, "I can't thank you enough, all of you for the kind things you said as I was going around before the dinner about my family and what we are dealing with," he told the Silicon executives. "And I want to thank you on a very personal basis. Even presidents have to be people from time to time and you made me feel like one tonight and I thank you very much."

    The president got one bit of support this morning before he left Northern California. The San Francisco Chronicle, the region's largest newspaper, declared he should remain in office, "at least for now." But the paper also said that Clinton has suffered "incalculable damage" and will not go unpunished because he has little chance for "meaningful accomplishment in his final two years in office."


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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