Clinton Invited to Give Bush the Business : Politics: Prominent Republican contributors ask the Democratic contender to breakfast Friday. They are worried about the economy and warn the President that they may get behind ‘new leadership.’


Two of Orange County’s most prominent Republican business leaders, threatening a mutiny against President Bush, have announced they will host a breakfast this Friday for Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

The two are Western Digital Corp. Chairman Roger W. Johnson and developer Kathryn G. Thompson. Thompson is a member of Bush’s prestigious Team 100, a group of contributors who gave at least $100,000 to the 1988 Republican campaign.

In an unusual break with their party’s incumbent, the two sent an invitation titled “Looking for a Leader--Identifying Alternatives” to several dozen local business leaders. The invitation expressed concern about the economy and suggested that improvements “will require a different kind of political leadership--different from what we see in Washington today.”

“Maybe it will come from a reawakening of the current leadership--maybe it will have to come from new leadership,” the letter said. " . . . We have talked extensively with (Clinton) and believe he would provide just such an alternative.”


Clinton’s campaign called the event one of the most significant so far for the Arkansas governor because they said it demonstrates that the appeal of Clinton’s message--especially on the economy--crosses partisan lines.

“This is a major item to demonstrate the reach of Bill Clinton,” said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s California finance director. “He has impressed not only hard-nosed Democrats from New Hampshire to the South and to Montana but also moderate business Republicans in California.”

Some county Republican leaders and Bush supporters warned that the Clinton breakfast should not be oversold as a major threat to the President’s campaign in California’s strongest Republican county. They acknowledged that there is concern about the economy, especially among business leaders, but they expected most would still support the President.

“I very much doubt that when this governor (Clinton) walks out of here he will be the Pied Piper taking away the Bush base in Orange County,” said one Republican Bush supporter. “I think you have to take into account that these businesses are suffering and these people want to send a message--and they will.”


Clinton’s staff said it expects to receive money from guests at the Newport Beach breakfast but a spokesman for Johnson said it is not a fund-raiser. Robert Blair, vice president for corporate communications at Western Digital, also said the meeting does not represent an endorsement of Clinton by either Johnson or Thompson.

“It is just to hear ideas,” he said. “Roger represents a feeling that alternatives need to be explored.”

Johnson is a director of the American Business Conference, a Washington lobbying group that includes more than 100 chief executive officers of major corporations. Irvine-based Western Digital, which makes components for personal computers, lost $172 million in the last five quarters.

Kantor said he expected between 25 and 30 people to attend the breakfast, almost all of them Republicans. Orange County Democratic Chairman Howard Adler and former state Democratic chairman Richard O’Neill--both prominent developers--were also invited.


The breakfast gathering stems from a “very blunt” meeting with the President in Los Angeles in September where several major contributors including some Orange County business leaders warned Bush that he was not doing enough to cure the ailing economy.

After that Sept. 19 meeting, Johnson told The Times: “I have told some senior Administration people, including Cabinet members, that I just wish there was a good Democrat out there for me to support. They laugh and say I can’t be serious,” he added. “I say, ‘Just watch me.’ ”

Stunned by the frank complaints at the Los Angeles meeting, Administration officials responded by meeting with congressional leaders and economic advisers to forge a new economic strategy.

After reading Johnson’s comments in the media, however, Clinton’s campaign contacted the electronics executive and started a series of exchanges about economic and growth issues that led to Friday’s breakfast.


Clinton has proposed an economic growth package that includes job training programs and a focus on education as well as business tax credits for research and development. Like Bush, Clinton also supports a reduction in the capital gains tax but the Democrat says his cut would be limited to long-term investment in American companies.

Thompson, president of Thompson Development Co., one of Orange County’s largest home builders, is one of 40 California members of President Bush’s Team 100. She could not be reached for comment.