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Clinton Fund-Raising Efforts Under Fire : Politics: He seeks finance reform but critics say he hasn’t pushed hard enough. Study shows he has raised $20 million in unregulated ‘soft money’ for Democrats.

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TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

President Clinton’s extensive fund raising for the Democratic Party is coming under fire from campaign reform advocates, who maintain it mocks his promises to dam the flow of money into politics.

As the President prepares to host a lucrative Democratic National Committee dinner tonight in Washington, the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause released a study showing that since Clinton took office he has raised more than $20.5 million in unregulated “soft money” from individuals, corporations and labor unions.

As he promised during the campaign, Clinton has introduced legislation that would ban most donations not subject to federal limits on campaign contributions. But the legislation is stalled in a House-Senate conference committee, and reform advocates say the President hasn’t pushed hard enough to break the logjam.

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Clinton “has not conducted the kind of public fight he said he would,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause.

Officials at the DNC and the White House say Clinton is committed to reforming the campaign finance system, but will not put the party at a competitive disadvantage with the GOP by refusing soft money while it is still legal.

“President Clinton has proposed, pushed for and will sign campaign finance reform,” said Michael Waldman, a White House aide monitoring the legislation. “But we will not unilaterally disarm while the Republican Party is raising millions of dollars.”

The critics, however, insist that Clinton’s continued aggressive exploitation of the soft money loophole sends the wrong signal to the public and legislators on Capitol Hill. “If they were sincere about real campaign finance reform, they would behave differently,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Under campaign finance laws, corporations and labor unions are barred from making direct contributions to candidates for federal office, and individuals are limited to donations of $1,000 or less.

But the soft money loophole allows unions, companies and individuals to make unlimited donations to the national parties for grass-roots “party building.” Those can include crucial political organizing activities, such as phone banks and door-to-door canvassing, and thus allows large donors to effectively circumvent the strict limits on donations to individual candidates.

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Overall, the Common Cause study shows, the DNC raised $40.5 million in soft money contributions between July, 1992, when Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination, and last March, the latest month for which figures are available. Over that same period, the Republicans raised just over half as much in soft money: $21.5 million. All figures in the Common Cause study come from filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The study also shows that under Clinton the entertainment industry has emerged as one of the largest sources of donations to the Democratic Party, trailing only the financial industry and organized labor. Over the 21-month period studied by Common Cause, the entertainment industry donated more than $2.6 million to the DNC.

Over that period, the largest entertainment industry donor was Time Warner Inc. The company directly donated $28,333 to the DNC over the period, the review found, while executives with the firm pumped in $480,000.

Other large entertainment industry donors included David Geffen, who contributed $220,000; Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who contributed $170,000; director Steven Spielberg, who contributed $100,000, and Sidney J. Sheinberg and Lew R. Wasserman of MCA Inc., who donated $120,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Both the House and Senate have passed campaign finance reform bills that would ban almost all soft money contributions to the national parties. But the bills have been held up by disagreements between the two chambers.

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