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RNC Gives $800,000 for 'Issue Advocacy' (Washington Post, Oct. 22)

A $50,000 Weekend With Clinton, Gore

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 22, 1997; Page A04

Struggling to reduce its $15 million debt, the Democratic Party has invited donors to pay $50,000 for a Florida weekend retreat featuring President Clinton, Vice President Gore and a sprinkling of senators, House members and administration officials, perhaps a Cabinet secretary or two.

Political party committees often sponsor luxurious getaways as part of the package of perks they provide their biggest contributors. But the Democratic National Committee "autumn retreat" is unusual in that the price of admission for the weekend alone is so steep. The retreat is also believed to be the first such event involving a sitting president and vice president.

Officials hope the event will bring in $3 million and say they already have commitments for $1.6 million. The retreat is to be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel at the Amelia Island golf and tennis resort in Florida.

DNC national chairman Steven Grossman rejected criticism of the event by some campaign finance groups and noted that it would be open to the press. "I don't think it's unseemly," he said. "It's open, it's transparent, it's accessible. . . . People can feel comfortable that even though our major supporters are involved in a significant way that the event itself is one that reflects credit on all of us."

One Democratic official said the party was so far in the hole financially that it needed to plan the big-ticket retreat in addition to holding a series of fund-raising dinners around the country. "At this point, we don't have the option to do A or B," the official said. "We have to do A and B. . . . We can't let the place [DNC] go under. In this environment, there's a little discomfort doing any of this but you don't have a lot of options. . . . We can't go into '98 with a massive debt. Otherwise, we take ourselves out of play."

Clinton is to arrive late Friday night and leave early Sunday to campaign for the Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. Gore flies in Saturday afternoon and will stay through Sunday.

The weekend includes panel discussions on such topics as education, children's health, economic growth and foreign policy, along with golf and tennis tournaments. Contributors will pay their own air fare and $189 per night room charge.

The fund-raising for the event is being handled by DNC finance chairman Alan D. Solomont and victory fund chairman Dan Dutko, a Washington lobbyist.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is aiming to raise more than $6 million at its third annual Senate Majority Dinner here Nov. 5, up from the $3.5 million the event raised last year. William Timmons of Timmons & Co., a Washington lobbying firm, is shooting for $1.3 million from Washington players.

Timmons has assembled a committee of prominent Washington lobbyists to serve as dinner vice chairmen, each trying to raise at least $100,000. They include two major tobacco lobbyists, Juanita Duggan of Philip Morris and Ralph Vinovich of the Tobacco Institute, along with former Bush aide Nicholas Calio of O'Brien Calio, Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and lawyer James F. Miller.

The committee has already collected more than $4.8 million.

"The Senate Majority Dinner will be the opportunity of a lifetime to rub shoulders with the people whose faces you've seen every day on CNN and C-SPAN and the networks," one fund-raising appeal promised.

For big givers to the NRSC, the dinner is the culmination of two days of briefings and receptions with top GOP officials, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). For example, according to a tentative agenda sent to prospective donors, contributors to the NRSC Roundtable – who give $5,000 – get "personal photo sessions with the entire Republican Senate Leadership" at a welcoming reception the day before the dinner. Members of the Senatorial Trust – who give $10,000 – get lunch with Lott, a briefing by Malcolm "Steve" Forbes and Jack Kemp, and a special reception with GOP senators, House members and governors.

With continuing headlines about campaign contributions, even Republicans have found it harder to raise big bucks. "There's no doubt that people who don't like to see their names in the news tend to accentuate their guardedness in an environment of this nature," said one GOP fund-raiser.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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