Hillary Rodham Clinton's brothers, Hugh and Anthony Rodham, abandoned a plan Thursday to solicit corporate donations to cover inaugural parties for friends and family members after news of the effort became public.
"They made a mistake. They didn't know," said Lisa Caputo, Hillary Clinton's press secretary. "We're now dealing with appearance problems, and they didn't know the way it would appear."
The two brothers, who live in Florida, where Hugh Rodham is an assistant public defender and Anthony Rodham is a private investigator, had hired a Pennsylvania lawyer, Thomas Mellon, to approach several major corporations for donations.
The money, they said, would go to finance inaugural week parties for relatives of the Clintons and Rodhams and for staff members who had worked with them in the campaign.
Neither President-elect Bill Clinton nor his wife were aware of what her brothers were doing, aides insisted after the arrangement came to light in a Wall Street Journal article Thursday.
"They didn't tell Hillary," Caputo said. "They didn't tell the governor. They just didn't know any better. They made a mistake, and they know they made a mistake."
Any money that had been collected will be returned, Caputo said, although she added that "they weren't successful at all" in raising funds.
The solicitations came to light at a particularly inopportune time--just after Commerce Secretary-designate Ronald H. Brown was forced to cancel a gala for which a handful of major corporations were to pay $10,000 apiece.
Clinton has made an issue of improving ethics in government and reducing the influence of special-interest money in politics, all of which added to the embarrassment about the Rodham brothers' activities.
It was unclear how much money Mellon had been seeking or whether any corporations had agreed to contribute. Officials at one firm, Chevron Corp., confirmed that they had been approached but said they had turned down the request. Chevron probably would have given some money, but Mellon "just happened to catch us when our budget was exhausted," said Luddy Hayden, Chevron's Washington representative.
Neither the Rodham brothers nor Mellon could be reached for comment.
The embarrassment of Clinton aides underlines a presidential truism: from F. Donald Nixon to Billy Carter to Ronald Reagan's children and George Bush's family members, the problems and escapades of relatives have often given presidents headaches.
Richard M. Nixon got into political trouble after his brother took a loan from Howard Hughes to open a chain of fast-food restaurants that soon went broke. Billy Carter had dealings with the government of Libya that embarrassed President Jimmy Carter.
Reagan's son, Ron, danced in his underwear on NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live" and his daughter, Patti Davis, publicly criticized his wife, Nancy. And Bush suffered when his son, Neil, became embroiled in the financial collapse of the Silverado Savings & Loan in Denver while his brother, Prescott, has engaged in ventures with a man accused of being a Japanese mobster.