Contributions to President and Mrs. Clinton’s legal defense fund have plunged in the last six months, even as the family’s personal legal bills have been driven higher by the Whitewater hearings in Congress, trustees of the fund reported Friday.
Contributions dropped from $602,000 in the second half of 1994 to about $258,000 for the first half of 1995 and the number of contributions fell from 5,965 to 1,158.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry acknowledged that Clinton is as “concerned as anyone would be facing that kind of bill and obviously not having the wherewithal to pay that bill.”
As of June 30, the 14-month-old fund had $163,000 in assets and $1.6 million in unpaid legal bills. The Clintons reported $263,900 in income for 1994, tax records show.
Officials of the defense fund argued at a press conference that the shrinking contributions should not be interpreted as a sharp drop in giving. Instead, they said, it is remarkable that money continues to flow in, considering that they do no fund raising or advertising.
They added that with bills continuing to pile up from three well-known law firms representing the Clintons, friends probably will need to begin an organized fund-raising drive at some point. Referring to the just-concluded Whitewater hearings, Nicholas deB Katzenbach, the former U.S. attorney general who co-chairs the fund, said he expects the Clintons’ legal expenses to be “substantially increased by the recent show--or, shows, I guess.”
The fund was started on June 28, 1994. It accepts no money from corporations, federal workers, foreign nationals or registered lobbyists.
Considering that the fund does no advertising or soliciting, Katzenbach said, the collections are “quite a tribute to the President and Mrs. Clinton. . . . This voluntary outpouring of support has been greatly appreciated.”
Though the fund does not accept lobbyists’ donations, it did receive a maximum personal contribution of $1,000 from Dwayne Andreas, chairman of agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, whose corporate political action committee has been a top giver to politicians of all stripes. The company and Andreas have been under investigation by the Justice Department for price-fixing, in a matter that became public this summer.
Katzenbach said Clinton would not have known that federal investigators were looking into the operation and portrayed Andreas as someone who contributes across the political spectrum. Andreas gives to “every known political party in rather larger sums than the amounts [given] here,” he said.
The Clintons’ legal work has been handled by top East Coast firms of Williams & Connolly; and Skadden, Arps Slate, Meagher & Flom; and two Little Rock firms, Wright, Lindsey & Jennings; and Wilson Engstrom, Corum & Coulter.
Katzenbach played down the size of the bills, noting that the government has spent about $20 million on the Whitewater hearings in the “search for the needle.”
The defense fund contributors’ list includes executives, retired people, housewives, painters and attorneys--and a smattering of well-known names, including movie executive Sidney Sheinbaum and financier Don Gevirtz, two big California contributors to Democrats.