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Party Hails Increase in Fund-Raising

By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 1998; Page A13

As allegations unfolded last week that President Clinton had sex with a former White House intern and asked her to lie about it, Democratic Party faithful responded by opening their checkbooks, the party's chairman said yesterday.

"A sense of urgency has been created to be there with the president and the party," observed Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman.

In the first two days of the Clinton scandal, contributions to the party fell precipitously, Grossman said. But since then -- spurred in part by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's spirited counterattack -- donors have responded enthusiastically to the party's request for money.

"This is powerful validation of what the president and first lady have been up to," Grossman said.

Even before this week's uptick in donations, the party's financial picture had been slowly improving. In a year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission yesterday, the DNC reported a debt of $9.1 million, down from the staggering $16.9 million debt recorded six months ago.

With Clinton's help, the DNC raised $41.9 million in 1997. The party has $4.1 million in cash on-hand, although just $1.3 million of that can be given directly to candidates.

Democrats still trail far behind the GOP in the money chase. The Republican National Committee raised $47 million and has whittled its debt down to less than $4.3 million.

The Democrats' financial woes stem from questions about the party's past fund-raising activity. A slew of investigations cost the DNC millions of dollars in legal expenses, which it is still struggling to pay. Yesterday's report indicated that the single largest debt was $3.8 million owed to the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm.

Each January the DNC mounts a donor renewal program asking past supporters to pledge again. Grossman said the average pledge before the Lewinsky scandal was $28; it dropped to $25 a week ago and is now $30.

He said the first lady's television appearances, Clinton's State of the Union address and anger over what he described as an overzealous prosecutor inspired loyal Democrats to rally around their embattled leader.

Republicans said privately that the DNC's donation spurt may reflect the views of its most ardent supporters, rather than the public at large.

But Grossman said not to underestimate the value of an energized base. In off-year elections -- which traditionally have low turnouts -- the base can be determinative, he said.

Beth Dozoretz, a wealthy Georgetown Democrat and reliable fund-raiser, said she decided Thursday to host an event with Clinton at her home next month.

When the Monica Lewinsky story broke, "I felt like I was punched in the stomach," she said. "I felt the president was really hitting his stride . . . to be halted by these type of accusations was very disheartening for me." But Dozoretz said she was encouraged by the response to her fund-raising invitations. "So many people want to show support in whatever way they can," she said.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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