President Reagan yesterday defended his and Nancy Reagan's acceptance of thousands of dollars in expensive jewelry, sculptures, crystal, sweaters and shoes, saying, "I have never in my entire experience ever had anyone suggest to me that any contribution or gift they ever made would lead to any benefit."
But at least a few of the 47 friends, manufacturers and strangers who gave the Reagans gifts in their first year in the White House said that they hoped to use the president's name to promote products.
For instance, Cathy Boyd, of Bill Boyd's Western World in Reno, said her father sent to the president, through Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), the first of "our limited edition American Eagle" silver belt buckles, which retail for $1,250. The buckle manufacturer, Robert W. (Bill) Boyd, who is running for lieutenant governor, has displayed the president's thank-you letter in his stores and used the president's name in advertising. Cathy Boyd added that she thinks it helped sales.
Guy L. Beury, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., jeweler who says he has never met Reagan, said he took a $400 cameo to the White House last year for Mrs. Reagan with the idea of publicizing his product. "Let's face it. You kind of promote yourself," he said. "Most people think cameos are all $29.95."
White House counsel Fred Fielding said there are no prohibitions on a president accepting gifts from individuals. Nevertheless, he said, he reviews each gift sent to the Reagans to make sure that receiving it would not be a conflict of interest or give the appearance of impropriety.
When Fielding was informed that some of those listed as gift givers on the Reagans' 1981 financial disclosure form seemed motivated by promotion rather than friendship, he said, "That's unfortunate."
"If we were ever to perceive that that was the motivating force, we would never have accepted the gift."
Many other presidents have received valuable gifts from friends and officials, here and abroad. It is illegal to keep gifts from foreign governments, and most previous publicity about gifts to presidents has focused on expensive jewels from foreign dignitaries.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that the Harry Winston Co., a Fifth Avenue diamond merchant, intended that earrings and a necklace Mrs. Reagan borrowed 16 months ago for the inaugural festivities be kept as a gift. The diamonds were on the disclosure form with the notation "to be returned."
The paper said the jewels were valued at several hundred thousand dollars and quoted Ronald Winston, the firm's president, as saying they were to become the "nucleus of an ongoing collection for first ladies of the White House."
One administration official said the White House didn't think it was proper to keep the Winston jewels because of a feeling "that there shouldn't be state jewels."
The disclosure form also listed more than a dozen designer dresses that Mrs. Reagan wore and either returned or donated to museums.
Fielding said that gifts the Reagans decide not to keep are returned or given to the national archives. The gifts the Reagans kept, which the White House said were worth more than $30,000, were "for personal or sentimental reasons."
For instance, the president, who reported income of almost $419,000 last year, got a $150 sweater from Earl Jorgensen, a Los Angeles industrialist who is a member of his "kitchen cabinet."
The president "probably liked it and wanted to keep it," Fielding said of the sweater. "The decision to keep a gift is a personal thing as long as everyone agreed that it did not create an appearance problem."
Another friend, Robert H. Adams of Valley Center, Calif. said he and his wife have known the Reagans for years and they exchange gifts regularly. Adams, a retired steel manufacturer, is listed as giving a $165 crystal bowl. Interior Secretary James G. Watt recently named Adams to the National Public Lands Advisory Council, which advises Watt and the director of the Bureau of Land Management on the use of public lands.
The president also got a $150 pair of shoes from the Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp. of Belgium, Wis., and two pair of boots, worth $600, from the American Footwear Industry Association of Dallas. Asked whether those gifts might not give the appearance of seeking Reagan's goodwill when the American shoe industry is seeking protection from foreign shoe imports, David Waller, senior associate White House counsel, responded:
"I think it's absolutely absurd to think that the president is going to be affected by the gift of a pair of shoes."
"To give him one pair of their product is not buying influence," Waller said. He described it as a courtesy, similar to the practice of court reporting firms that send desk calendars to lawyers.