David Watkins, an advertising executive and political adviser to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, had no trouble coming up with possible investors when forming a group in 1983 to compete for the cellular telephone franchise in Little Rock: several bankers, some prominent businessmen, a state legislator or two and Hillary Clinton.

The venture was a long shot, but could produce a bonanza for a small investment, Watkins recalled, and he and two other organizers "were picking friends." Hillary Clinton put up $2,014 for a 2.5 percent interest; five years later, she received a check for about $48,000 -- her most successful single investment.

During their convention last week, Democrats took pains to paint Bill Clinton as someone who grew up without the benefits of privilege or wealth. The presidential nominee and his family are financially comfortable now, in part, because friends, political supporters and corporate executives have invited Hillary Clinton to become an investor, a board member or their attorney.

The Clintons' financial profile, as revealed in interviews, financial disclosure forms and tax returns, reflects the interwoven power structure of business and politics in their state. They own stock in two of Arkansas' best-known companies, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and TCBY Enterprises Inc., the yogurt maker and franchiser. They borrow at times from banks controlled by political friends. Their business partner in an Ozarks resort development once served the governor as his economic development aide.

"If I've learned anything, it's that by and large there are about 200 people in the state of Arkansas and they all know each other and do business with each other, regardless of their politics over the years," said James Lyons, a Denver lawyer and Clinton friend brought in by the campaign to review the tangled finances of the Ozarks land venture.

The Clintons reported joint income last year of $234,000, most of it from Hillary Clinton's earnings as a lawyer and from her service on three corporate boards. The couple, who donated 6.6 percent of their 1991 income to charity and paid nearly $50,000 in federal taxes, listed a net worth of about $700,000 at the end of 1991.

Their net worth and income places them among the top few percent of Americans -- though nowhere near President Bush, whose net worth is about $3.7 million.

Clinton makes $35,000 a year as Arkansas governor. His job also provides him with a car, driver, a $19,000-a-year discretionary account and a two-story Georgian brick mansion with a $51,000-a- year budget to maintain it. In addition, friends and corporations have allowed him to use their private airplanes at no charge.

Hillary Clinton made nearly $110,000 last year from the Rose law firm, where she has been a partner since 1979. She said in a brief interview that she goes to great lengths to avoid any possible conflicts of interests, insisting that her firm's profits be segregated so she does not profit from any work representing state agencies or underwriters of state bond issues.

She does profit from the firm's representation of private clients before state agencies, although she said she personally does not accept such work. According to managing partner Webb Hubbell, such clients account for less than 5 percent of the firm's business.

In a written response to questions, Clinton said she earns less from the law firm than "I would have otherwise expected" because she devotes time to public service projects, including work for organizations promoting the rights of children.

Clinton made another $64,700 last year as a director of three corporations. She resigned those seats in May, saying the campaign left her no time to devote to them.

Such posts are rare for the law firm's 30 partners. With Hillary Clinton's resignations, only one Rose partner now serves on a corporate board, according to Hubbell.

In the view of C. Joseph Giroir Jr., a former senior partner at the Rose firm, Hillary Clinton's opportunities came her way because she is a prominent female lawyer who has the added prestige of being the wife of a governor.

She was first invited to serve on a corporate board in 1986 by Sam Walton, the late founder of the Wal-Mart discount shopping empire. Walton expanded the board of directors to include her. She joined 14 male directors, some of whom are chairmen of major corporations. Robert Kahn, a financial analyst and board member, said Clinton -- who has accumulated $80,000 worth of Wal-Mart stock -- pushed the company to be more sensitive to environmental concerns and to ensure it did not discriminate against women or minorities.

At two other corporations, Hillary Clinton's board seats were accompanied by new business for her law firm. In 1986, she helped form Southern Development Bancorp., a bank holding company designed to enable rural Arkansas residents to obtain economic development loans.

She earns no fees as a Southern Development director, but the firm and its affiliates have paid the Rose law firm between $100,000 and $200,000 since 1986, according to George Surgeon, the company's president. He describes Hillary Clinton as the company's lead counsel. Asked if the company chose Rose as its Arkansas law firm because of Hillary Clinton, he said: "Oh yes. Absolutely."

Most of the law firm's work involved Southern Development's purchase of Elkhorn Bank in Arkadelphia, which required the approval of Arkansas state banking regulators. Another Rose lawyer handled the bulk of the work before the bank department, according to Surgeon. In a written response to questions, Hillary Clinton said that as the company's lawyer, she "was routinely copied on correspondence involving the Elkhorn transaction," but was not involved in the effort to obtain state approval.

Marlin Jackson, former state banking commissioner, remembers Clinton's role a little differently. He said she discussed Southern Development's mission and called him when corporate representatives came to town, apologizing for a schedule conflict that kept her from introducing them in person.

Since Hillary Clinton joined the board of TCBY Enterprises in 1989, the company has paid the Rose law firm roughly $750,000 to defend it against shareholder suits, according to Erik Wulff, a former vice president and TCBY director.

Wulff, who described Clinton as a smart and conscientious director, said he thinks TCBY Chairman Frank Hickingbotham was simply playing good politics in inviting her on the board, "making sure he was in good grace with the people in power." Between November 1988 and February 1989, state records show, Hickingbotham also contributed $25,000 to a lobbying fund to support Bill Clinton's legislative program, eight times more than the next largest contributor.

Another corporate board seat came Hillary Clinton's way in 1990 when she became a $31,000-a-year director of Lafarge Corp., a cement manufacturing firm. Edward Tuck, a board member, said he recommended Clinton as Lafarge's first female director because he was impressed with her work on a nonprofit project on children. Lafarge, based in Reston, Va., and owned by a French firm, does no business in Arkansas.

The Clintons started their adult lives without substantial savings and with debts from Bill Clinton's schooling at Georgetown University, Oxford University and Yale Law School. His aide Betsey Wright said Clinton took "a long time" to pay back the loans. By the time of their marriage in 1975, he was $25,000 deeper in debt from his unsuccessful 1974 congressional race and was making $18,000 a year teaching law at the University of Arkansas.

His income dropped substantially the following year as he took time off to run for attorney general. But he won the election and the couple's fortunes took a turn for the better. They moved to Little Rock and Hillary Clinton joined the well-established Rose firm.

In 1978, when Clinton was running for his first term as governor, he and his wife borrowed heavily to buy 230 acres in the Ozarks with their friends, James and Susan McDougal. The two couples took out loans totaling $202,611.

The Clintons' tax returns show that, over the years, Hillary Clinton has invested in a variety of ventures, including an oil-drilling partnership based in Colorado and a partnership that owns the Rose law firm building. One early investment was in the stock of DeBeers Mines of South Africa. The tax returns show the purchase and sale of 170 shares of the diamond-mining firm between 1978 and 1981, yielding $769 in capital gains.

Wright said that Hillary Clinton told her a broker had bought the DeBeers stock with "discretionary funds," and that she sold the stock when she learned about it, because of concerns about South Africa's apartheid policies. The Clinton campaign told reporters during the New York convention that the investment was a mistake.

Hillary Clinton has said the couple's investment choices reflect their fiscal conservatism, but they occasionally have picked some risky ventures, such as a financial "futures contract" in which she lost $2,532 in one day in 1987.

The earlier investment in Arkansas Cellular Communications was risky too, but Hillary Clinton did not have to put up much money. The 17-member group's chances of winning the federal franchise took a dive when the Federal Communications Commission decided to choose a winner through a lottery rather than a competitive process.

Suddenly there were 189 entries, group organizer Watkins recalled. Arkansas Cellular reacted by forming an alliance with other franchise applicants, a common practice that effectively increased the group's chances to about one in four.

Arkansas Cellular came in second in the lottery. But it won the franchise after another loser challenged the winning entry, which later agreed to sell out at a heavily discounted price.

Arkansas Cellular borrowed the money for the buyout, with Hillary Clinton personally guaranteeing $60,000, Watkins said, then sold the franchise rights to McCaw Communications for a profit of about $2 million in 1988.

According to their net worth statement, the Clintons began 1992 with $158,000 in cash, $180,000 in their retirement plans and a half-interest, worth $80,000, in a Little Rock condominium that they own with Hillary Clinton's parents. They also have $387,000 in stock mutual funds and other investments -- an 84 percent increase from two years earlier. Clinton aide Wright declined to say what accounted for the increase in value in their investment portfolio.

Their only listed liabilities are a mortgage loan of nearly $65,000 on the condominium and a $100,000 loan from the 1990 gubernatorial race that they guaranteed, but which is being repaid by the campaign.

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.