President Clinton's legal defense fund raised an additional $2.4 million during the first half of the year, allowing the first family to slice its legal debt in half but leaving it with approximately $5.2 million in unpaid bills.
In addition, the fund will likely not pay Clinton's $90,000 contempt of court citation for giving false testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, said chairman Anthony F. Essaye, a New York lawyer. He said the penalty is not a legal bill and, therefore, not part of the legal fund's responsibility. Even though the amount raised so far this year is comparable to that of the second half of 1998, fund trustees said yesterday that the pace of contributions has slowed recently, as Clinton's legal travails recede from public view and presidential candidates begin to compete for contributions.
"With so much else going on, with other campaigns starting to kick up, with [Clinton's legal trouble] being out of the news, and the public thinking this really is behind us, I think we have started to see a downturn," Essaye said.
Overall, the Clinton Legal Expense Trust has raised $6.3 million from 65,000 individual donors since its inception in February 1998. Although fund officials said 95 percent of the contributions have come in amounts less than $100, a cadre of celebrities, Hollywood executives and wealthy individuals have continued to send in $10,000 checks, the maximum the fund allows.
The fund has received 57 such donations since February, including contributions from DreamWorks SKG co-owners David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, each of whom also gave $10,000 in 1998. The third member of the DreamWorks triumvirate, director Steven Spielberg, gave $10,000 last year. Actors Chevy Chase and Michael Douglas were also among the glitterati coming to Clinton's aid this year, along with designer Ralph Lauren.
The defense fund was established by former Arkansas senator David H. Pryor to raise money, largely through direct-mail solicitations, to help the Clintons pay the legal bills that mounted rapidly from the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, the Whitewater investigation, and Congress's impeachment inquiry and trial.
A precursor to the current fund, set up by the Clintons themselves, raised $800,000 but was hampered by Ethics in Government Act restrictions that prohibited it from soliciting any money.
The Clintons' legal debt has been cut in half from a high of $10.5 million, trustees said yesterday. The current trust has paid $4.5 million of the Clintons' legal tab; the previous trust had paid $800,000.
At the somewhat slower pace the money is currently coming in, trustees said they will be able to come close to wiping out the Clintons' entire legal debt. They said, however, that because independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr continues to operate and plans to issue a final report on his investigation sometime next year, it is possible that the bills will continue to grow.