Safety Net for No. 1

Throughout his political career, Ronald Reagan has had a special financial safety net under him, held by the close group of wealthy friends and advisers who first promoted him for governor of California and then for President of the United States. The safety net is at work again.

When the Reagans fled the Victorian mansion that used to serve as California's executive residence, this group bought a stately home on Sacramento's 45th Street for the governor to use. They organized a campaign to buy land in a fashionable suburb to build a new governor's mansion. Members of the group helped Reagan invest in a Riverside area ranch, and then assisted him in selling that ranch and buying the Reagans' present property near Santa Barbara.

The suggestion all along was that Reagan's time was too important to the state and nation to have to worry about financial details and where to live.

Now it has been disclosed that about 20 of the President's California friends have chipped in, through a holding company, to buy a $2.5-million home on 1 acres of land in old Bel-Air just in case that is where the Reagans choose to retire. There is no obligation, should they elect to buy another home. And, of course, it was emphasized, the First Family still will have to pay for the Bel-Air house if they decide that they like it.

Those close to Reagan point out that his finances are in a blind trust while he is President, although that would not seem to preclude administrators of the trust from using some of the money for the house. There never has been any serious allegation of conflict of interest about these comfortable financial arrangements. Other Presidents have had wealthy friends do similar favors, but not usually without tinges of scandal or questions of impropriety--and certainly not so often or so faithfully over such a long period.

The Reagan charm and innocence have shielded him from such. "Never look a gift house in the mouth," Reagan quipped when his friends bought the Sacramento home for his use. This is not the time to begrudge the President's having wealthy friends who are concerned about his welfare. But when the President talks about the needs of the needy in America, it is well to remember that there are safety nets--and then there are safety nets.

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