Anybody who wants to know how the Democratic Party raked in a record $180 million in the last election might check the guest registry of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for July 27, 1995.

As Wall Street deal-maker Steven Rattner and his wife checked out of the White House that day, fresh from a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, Philadelphia lawyer Leonard Barrack and his wife were arriving with their suitcases. Directly across the hall in the Queens' Bedroom, Boston developer Alan M. Levanthal and his wife were penned in for one night. That evening, all three families went to the East Room for a state dinner with the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Together, the men and their firms contributed about $350,000 to the Democratic Party over the last two years and raised even more money from others. Their visit to the executive mansion was part of the inducement and the reward. Nor were they alone: So many big-money donors have slept at the White House in recent years that one Clinton fund-raiser likens the executive mansion to a Motel 6.

The guest list for that day and others underlines a political phenomenon that has even Republicans, the past masters of political fund-raising, shaking their heads in awe: Bill Clinton has personally raised campaign cash like no other figure in modern history.

Clinton now says that the fund-raising business is too time-consuming and the system too vulnerable to problems like the improper foreign contributions at the center of the current controversy over Democratic fund-raising. But facing reelection, he was the moving force in a calculated political strategy by Democratic Party leaders to make full use of White House perks and presidential "face time" to meet unprecedented fund-raising goals.

Although every president strokes political donors, Clinton was remarkable for the extent of his involvement, dozens of interviews with White House aides, Democratic party officials, fund-raisers of both parties and donors show.

President Bush's aides complain their president would not fulfill a promise to save five seats for donors at the occasional state dinner. He invited the same contributor, a longtime friend, over and over, the aides said. "We couldn't get him to include donors for popcorn and a movie," said one former adviser.

Clinton, on the other hand, hosted a "coffee klatch" for donors at the White House every month in 1996, and even told his staff at one point that he wanted to meet more new donors. The intimacy increased with the amount of the check: Donors of $10,000 were included in a roomful of diners with the president. Those who contributed up to $100,000 dined at a table with the president, although sometimes 30 people were crowded in.

One California donor who stayed with his son in the Lincoln Bedroom said the president, dressed in a tuxedo, knocked on the door at midnight, found them watching a videotape on the White House and proceeded to give them a personal, two-hour tour of it.

Others were invited to golf outings, appointed to honorary commissions or handed podium passes to the Democratic convention. Raymond Lesniak, a New Jersey politician of Polish heritage who says he raised $1.5 million, traveled on Air Force One with Clinton to meet Polish-born Pope John Paul II at Newark Airport. "Those types of things make someone want to walk through a wall for him," Lesniak said.

Or at least walk to the bank. The Democratic National Committee's receipts from "soft money" donors, courted heavily by the White House, show the success of Clinton's strategy. The size of individual soft money donations is not limited, but the parties are supposed to use the funds only for party-building activities such as issue advertisements, not to promote a particular candidate.

In the past two years, the DNC hauled in $85 million in soft money, almost $20 million more than the Republicans, and nearly three times what the DNC collected in the 1992 election cycle. The Republican National Committee raised more money than the Democrats overall this time, but the bulk of it came from a carefully cultivated list of small donors reached by direct mail.

The Democrats' strategy of throwing open the White House to big donors carried some risk. One $20,000 donor who was invited to a White House Christmas party last December and photographed at another event with Vice President Gore turned out to be a convicted felon, imprisoned twice on drug-related charges. The president's Oval Office visits with Indonesian businessman James Riady led to Republican allegations that Clinton let Riady lobby him on trade policy in exchange for political donations. The White House denies Riady exerted any undue influence.

Last year, when key fund-raising decisions were made, the president's advisers weren't thinking about foreign influence or convicted felons, but about how to slow down the GOP "revolution" in Congress and reverse the president's sagging popularity.

Democrats traditionally get most of their money in big chunks from wealthy donors. But with Republicans on a roll with the 1994 takeover of Congress, Clinton's political aides feared corporations would channel their money to the party that speaks for business. Beginning in 1995, Clinton and his political aides held regular talks on how to raise and use DNC funds to combat the Republicans and supplement the war chest built by the Clinton-Gore campaign.

On Sept. 10, 1995, in a rare Sunday night meeting at the White House, deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes and DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler described to Clinton and Gore a costly plan. It called for a 10-week run of ads portraying the Republicans as extremists, at a cost of $12 million. Only with direct involvement of the "principals" could enough money be raised, the strategists said. Gore and Clinton agreed, adding seven big DNC fund-raising events to their schedules.

Three months later, with Clinton's polls markedly improved, Ickes was back, asking Clinton and Gore to commit even more time. He handed them a crowded schedule of fund-raising events, featuring not only them but their wives.

"This cannot be done without you," Ickes told Clinton and Gore, according to participants at the meeting. "This is up to you. It's your time, your money, your campaign."

The strategy rested on the well-tested notion that people of great wealth can still be impressed with the trappings of power. Some of the largest donors "are so wealthy they don't need anything from the government," said a top Democratic fund-raiser. "It's an ego thing. They want to be invited to some conference so when they tee off at 2 p.m. they can say, Joe, I was with Bill the other day.' "

Political aides also were counting on the president's magnetism, his renowned memory for names and faces, his ability to focus on a person in a receiving line as if he is the only person in the room. "If you can get anyone around him, he just excites people, and they want to know what they can do for him," said Stan McLelland, a Texas natural gas executive who contributed $60,000 and raised more after having coffee with Clinton and dinner with Gore at the vice president's mansion.

Clinton was eager to accommodate the fund-raisers' requests, hopping from banquet hall to living room in virtually every large city. Public records show he attended 90 fund-raisers this year, including 23 events in September alone, and that list is far from complete. On some nights, Clinton attended three events -- back-to-back dinners in search of major donations, followed by a larger late-night event at $100 a head.

White House press secretary Michael McCurry agrees that Clinton probably has spent more time fund-raising than his predecessors. The dollar targets were so high, "frankly he had to put a lot of time into it," McCurry said. "The single best ingredient you've got {in fund-raising} is face time with the president, the picture, the personal note."

Although the president often joked about lightening the pockets of contributors and graciously thanked them for support, he never pitched directly for cash. Like a traveling preacher, he let his minions pass the collection plate.

Nonetheless, he was deeply involved in the strategy of raising money, several advisers said. Clinton personally suggested increasing the number of dinners for $10,000 donors, according to one adviser with direct knowledge. He also got frequent reports on the DNC's receipts, and projections on how much could be raised in specific time periods.

He did not suggest specific groups to be tapped. "That's just not how he thinks," said Fowler. "He thinks he should get 100 percent of the money."

The DNC used Clinton and Gore to both cheer on major fund-raisers and donors and recruit new ones. Haim Saban's contribution to the DNC followed a typical scenario. Saban, who produces children's programming in Los Angeles, had never given to a presidential campaign before, but Stanley S. Shuman, a New York investment banker and premier Democratic fund-raiser, had a hunch he might. In late 1995, he asked Saban if he would like to meet the president.

Saban was included in a White House breakfast with 15 other business executives. A short time later, Saban recalled, "Stan called me up and said, Could you contribute?' " Saban's checks to the DNC over the next several months totaled $240,000.

The prospect of presidential elbow-rubbing also helped lure top fund-raisers to a key DNC meeting. On Jan. 29, DNC officials briefed a group of about 80 major donors and fund-raisers at the Hay-Adams hotel on the need for each of them to raise another $350,000, mostly to pay for more ads. Afterward the entire group of trial lawyers, financiers, moviemakers and business executives trooped across Lafayette Park to the White House for lunch with the president.

Some of the smallest events Clinton attended were the most fruitful. One axiom of fund-raising business is that the size of the check is in inverse proportion to the size of the room. Another is that peers will compete, so the ideal guest list to an event may be people who know each other.

At music producer David Geffen's Malibu beach house, the combination of intimacy and competition brought in more money than the first major event of the Clinton-Gore campaign, attended by roughly 1,000 contributors who were limited to $1,000 apiece because the money went for a specific candidate.

The president dined at Geffen's house earlier this year with just 15 or 20 people, including moviemakers Steve Tisch and Lew Wasserman. At another small get-together in March, the president dined at Geffen's house again with beer industry giant August A. Busch IV and liquor company executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. The total take for both dinners: $2 million.

At the Hay-Adams Hotel in July 1995, the president dined with 10 top New York businessmen and their wives, some of whom expressed delight not to be mixed in with lobbyists and lesser executives. Their checks totaled nearly $1 million.

Underlying the White House efforts was a determination to make up for what political aides saw as a failure to treat donors properly after Clinton's 1992 election. Truman Arnold, a Texas businessman who was DNC finance chairman for part of 1995, said he had to try hard to "reconnect" with donors miffed at their treatment during the 1993 inaugural festivities and afterward. "I spent a lot of time talking and apologizing" for the White House's "poor social graces," said Arnold.

Now, says McCurry, "you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has raised a significant amount of money who is not included in some reception, or some gathering in the residence, or some tour."

Personal tours by the president were a particularly big hit, like the one he gave of Air Force One to several big financial backers who saw him off at the Los Angeles Airport in 1993. One of them asked him how he liked Air Force One, so he invited them all to see the plush interior. "There wasn't a napkin or box of M&Ms left," said Ron Burkle, a supermarket magnate who also got a personal tour of the White House by the president two years later.

Other donors were happy with a little public exposure. Two Philadelphia lawyers who helped raise $5.5 million -- Alan Kessler and Ken Jarin -- were invited onto the podium after Clinton's acceptance speech at last August's Democratic convention, an event broadcast on nationwide TV.

Presidential appointments also were in demand, with ambassadorships high on the list. DNC Chairman Fowler said over the last two years about two dozen financial backers announced, "I'd like to be on this, I'd like to be on that." He passed along the requests to the White House political office. At least 11 top fund-raisers were given appointments to boards or commissions, records show.

Some fund-raisers didn't even need to ask. Patricia Duff, a New Yorker whose husband's Revlon Group gave the DNC $445,000, was approached about whether there was anything she might be interested in. She ended up with a seat on the Library of Congress trust fund board.

Donors such as former New York ad man Carl Spielvogel also won appointments. Spielvogel contributed $100,000 in June 1995. Ten days later he was named to the Broadcasting Board of Governors for the International Bureau of Broadcasting.

Another sought-after honor, especially for some Jewish fund-raisers, was a trip with Clinton to the Middle East. Clinton included more than a dozen major Jewish fund-raisers or donors in a group of 60 Americans who attended the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in the Negev Desert in October 1994. He took six contributors with him when he traveled to Israel for last November's funeral of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin.

But for some, there is no topping the Lincoln Bedroom. The White House refuses to release guest lists, but three weeks of logs turned over to Congress suggest the guest quarters were in regular use.

The logs give a glimpse of how Steven Rattner and his wife Maureen spent their visit on July 26, 1995. They arrived at 5:25 p.m and had dinner in the Solarium with Clinton two hours later. The next morning, they went for a dip in the White House pool and ate breakfast. That night, they joined the Clintons at the state dinner with the likes of Liza Minelli and Judy Collins.

The Lincoln Bedroom, said McCurry, is "a special way of saying, Thank you for services rendered.' "

Staff researchers Barbara J. Saffir and Mary Lou White contributed to this report.


Personal contact with President Clinton is an incentive and/or reward for many big-money Democratic National Committee donors and fund-raisers.

DONOR: : Truman Arnold banker with oil interests from Texarkana, Tex.

GAVE: Donated $100,000 to DNC, raised more than $750,000 and was its finance chairman in 1995.

GOT: State dinner invitation, night in Lincoln Bedroom, golf with Clinton, trip on Air Force One, spot for wife on Kennedy Center board.

DONOR: Ron Burkle California grocery store magnate

GAVE: Donated $100,000 to DNC and raised more than $750,000.

GOT: Night in Lincoln Bedroom, golf.

DONOR: Beth Dozoretz Norfolk health care company

GAVE: Firm donated $51,000. Raised more than $750,000.

GOT: State dinner invitation. Appointment to Holocaust Commission, trip to Middle East, husband appointed to Kennedy Center board.

DONOR: Dan Dutko Washington lobbyist

GAVE: Raised more than $750,000 for DNC.

GOT: State dinner invitation, night in Lincoln Bedroom.

DONOR: David Geffen Hollywood producer

GAVE: Donated $200,000 to DNC and raised $1 million.

GOT: State dinner invitation, night in Lincoln Bedroom.

DONOR: Raymond Lesniak New Jersey politician

GAVE: Says he raised $1.5 million for the DNC.

GOT: Trip on Air Force One with Clinton to meet the pope in Newark, state dinner.

DONOR: Steven Rattner New York investment banker

GAVE: Donated $120,000 to DNC and raised more than $750,000.

GOT: State dinner invitation, night in Lincoln Bedroom.

DONOR: Stanley S. Shuman New York investment banker

GAVE: Donated $65,000 and raised $750,000.

GOT: State dinner, night over at White House.

DONOR: Alan D. Solomont Boston nursing home executive

GAVE: He and firm gave $120,000, raised more than $750,000.

GOT: Night over at White House, trip to Middle East, jogging with president.