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Clinton Told of Cash Raised From Coffees

By Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23 1997; Page A04
© The Washington Post

President Clinton and Vice President Gore were routinely notified of how much political cash was expected – and raised – from each White House coffee, documents show.

In regular memos to Clinton and Gore, former deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes treated the coffees just like any other fund-raising event. He gave both a projected and actual amount in contributions – usually $400,000.

The documents have not been released publicly but were described to The Washington Post by three individuals who have seen them. It was known previously that the Democratic National Committee, which organized the events, projected how much it would pull in from each event, and kept track of the contributions that came in. But the president has depicted the meetings in his public comments principally as opportunities to talk about issues, not as money-makers.

In his March 7 news conference, Clinton said of the coffees: "I genuinely enjoyed them. And I did not believe they were improper."

"I get frustrated going to meetings . . . where all you do is shake hands with somebody or you take a picture, no words ever [exchange]," he said. "I look for ways to have genuine conversations with people. I learn things when I listen to people."

The documents suggest that to the DNC and the president's political team, the coffees were political fund-raisers in everything but name and the timing of the solicitations. There is no evidence that guests were solicited in the president's presence; DNC fund-raisers typically waited until afterward.

Two DNC officials, speaking under condition of anonymity, have said the party's finance chairman, Marvin Rosen, told some supporters that $50,000 would buy them an invitation to a coffee with Clinton. But the White House has repeatedly said that if that happened, it was against the president's wishes.

Lanny J. Davis, White House special counsel, said the Ickes memos revealed little new. "As we have previously stated, these coffee events were organized with the hope and the expectation that they would generate support for the president, including financial support. It shouldn't be a surprise that the DNC people set targets and in many instances were successful in meeting their objectives."

In the memos, Ickes, the president's top political aide, also reported on how much the DNC expected to raise from other events such as "D.C. dinners" and "D.C. lunches." Copies of the memos were sent to a broad range of White House and DNC officials, including Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, Evelyn Lieberman, his deputy chief staff for operations, and Margaret A. Williams, the first lady's chief of staff.

One former DNC official said the party wanted the president to see by the cash totals that the coffees were worth his time. With the president's support, the DNC scheduled many of them, even to the point that Lieberman warned staff that political demands might cut into time for official business.

Between January 1995 and August 1996, the DNC set up at least 34 presidential coffees with donors or perspective donors. Together the president, vice president, first lady and the vice president's wife hosted more than 100 White House coffees with political supporters during that time.

Ickes' report including the Jan. 17, 1996, coffee was typical. It projected $400,000 in contributions from the guests, and listed the same amount as "actual." Not all that came in at once, according to Federal Election Commission records. But the guests or their companies coughed up at least $160,000 within a month of the event.

Staff writer Ira H. Chinoy and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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