Leading Clinton Donors Got Lifts on Air Force One
The White House provided trips on Air Force One or presidential helicopters to 56 campaign donors and fund-raisers in 1995 and 1996, administration officials said Monday.
In addition, leading campaign fund-raisers appeared on a “must consider” list for positions in the newly elected Clinton administration in 1992, according to newly released Democratic National Committee documents. Some later became ambassadors and other high-level appointees.
The White House and the national committee provided the new information as the Justice Department and congressional committees continued their investigations into Democratic fund-raising practices and White House perquisites provided to major financial benefactors.
The national committee documents included more than 10,000 pages about controversial fund-raiser John Huang’s employment by the national committee.
Among those on the “must consider” list for appointments was Huang himself, who received a mid-level Commerce Department job in 1994 after helping raise money for Clinton in the 1992 campaign.
Major donors and fund-raisers have been given jobs and political appointments for years by both Democratic and Republican administrations, but rarely have documents spelling out the practice been publicly available.
Huang’s activities at the national committee are at the center of the inquiries, particularly allegations that overseas interests, including the Chinese government, may have sought to channel contributions to the Democrats.
The documents detail contacts between Huang and the Chinese embassy and Chinese government officials as well as new information about his contacts with certain donors whose money the Democrats have decided to return as potentially improper.
White House and Democratic officials said there was nothing wrong with the Clintons’ use of Air Force One or with recommending supporters for appointments.
“We believe there is nothing inappropriate or unusual about the president of the United States inviting guests to be on his plane on official trips,” said Lanny J. Davis, a special White House counsel.
“As long as that privilege isn’t abused, we don’t believe the American people would object to that. And we believe that these numbers suggest it was very modest as an exercise of that prerogative.”
The cost of political travel is billed directly to the campaign, the DNC or the guest. But if a guest was on an official trip or leg of a trip, the individual was not required to pay air fare.
All told, Clinton took at least 477 guests on his 103 trips aboard Air Force One and presidential helicopter Marine One between Jan. 1, 1995, and Nov. 6, 1996, according to records compiled by the White House.
The White House defined “financial supporters” of the president as those who contributed $5,000 or more to the Democrats or raised $25,000 or more for the party or the Clinton-Gore campaign in the 1996 election cycle.
Vice President Al Gore, meanwhile, took 17 such donors on his 169 trips on Air Force Two or Marine Two.
Among those who made multiple flights were Terence McAuliffe, the Clinton-Gore finance chairman and his top aide, Laura Hartigan, and three Democratic officials: Finance Chairman Marvin Rosen, Finance Director Richard Sullivan and Treasurer Scott Pastrick.
A trip aboard Air Force One is among the most highly prized perquisites offered to major donors and fund-raisers. Supporters who flew with the president said that they were given “Welcome to Air Force One” name tags and sat in the VIP section equipped with large cabin-cruiser seats and telephones.
“It’s a tremendous ego boost,” said a Democratic official who participated in several trips. “The most exciting part for these people was to fly into their city and be able to get off the plane with all the local dignitaries on the tarmac.”
The guests on Air Force One in 1995 and 1996 contributed a total of $9.2 million to Democratic candidates and party committees since 1991, when Clinton first sought the party’s presidential nomination, according to an analysis by the Campaign Study Group. Of this total, $6.7 million went to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore committees in the two races.
Twenty-one of the Air Force One guests and their companies each donated more than $100,000. One of those was Stanley Chesley, a Cincinnati attorney. He and his law firm gave $581,450. Another was Rashid Chaudry. His company, the Raani Corp. of Bedford Park, Ill., contributed $401,819.
Three of the Air Force One guests, all major Democratic givers, also provided employment to Clinton friend Webster L. Hubbell after Hubbell’s resignation from a top Justice Department position because of improprieties in his previous law practice.
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is investigating whether administration officials and supporters arranged employment deals for Hubbell to dissuade him from providing Whitewater prosecutors with damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, his former law partner in Little Rock.
Those who arranged deals and rode on Air Force Once included Truman Arnold, a Texas oil executive and longtime Clinton friend; Wayne Reaud, a Beaumont, Texas, lawyer who paid Hubbell a total of $36,000 in 1994; and Bernard Rapoport, a Waco, Texas, insurance executive.
The rewarding of campaign donors with high-level political appointments is a staple of any administration. However, the Democrats had criticized previous Republican administrations for some of these practices--such as giving ambassadorships to big-dollar contributors.
The first Democratic memo about jobs for financial backers was sent to Michael Whouley, a Clinton campaign aide who was in charge of providing names to the transition team, on Dec. 21, 1992, a month before Clinton’s inauguration.
“We urge you to consider strongly the following leading national fund-raisers who are interested in serving in the White House,” the memo said. “We are pleased to sponsor these ‘must considers.’ ”
Among those named were Erskine Bowles, who obtained the post he sought as head of the Small Business Administration. He is now Clinton’s chief of staff. Also recommended was Arthur Levitt, who was proposed as a possible ambassador to Germany or a member of the National Economic Council. He became chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Those touted for ambassadorships and receiving postings, though not necessarily in their first-choice countries, were Alan Blinken in Belgium; Donald Blinken, Hungary; Clay Constantinou, Luxembourg; and Thomas Siebert, Sweden.
Huang, then an executive in Los Angeles with the Indonesian-based Lippo conglomerate, was recommended for a position of “under- or assistant secretary for international affairs” in an unspecified agency. He was ultimately appointed deputy assistant Commerce secretary for East Asia and the Pacific in 1994.
“We make no apologies for trying to get jobs for those who were helpful in trying to elect this president,” said Democratic Communications Director Amy Weiss Tobe. “It is not unusual for somebody who is helpful to end up on a list for a must consider for a top position.”
Democrats noted that more than a dozen of those on the Republicans’ major donor group known as Team 100 received ambassadorships and sub-Cabinet positions in the Bush administration.
The documents also reveal that Huang was extensively involved in Chinese organizations and participated in events at the Chinese embassy in Washington. Included were numerous business cards from representatives of Chinese groups and invitations to events. Huang also is listed as a director of the Committee of 100, a New York-based nonprofit group of Chinese-Americans who are active in public affairs.
A handwritten note that was faxed to Huang by Haipei Xue, an official with the Council on U.S.-China Affairs in Washington, reads: “What follows is an update on strategies & programs I drafted for discussion with our partners, like Boeing in this case, & with the Embassy. Although you are not directly involved in U.S.-China . . . your Committee of 100 and often yourself, I believe, will be engaged in it.”
DNC officials said that they were unable to determine whether any of Huang’s Chinese-related activities while he was employed by the party raised concerns because they did not know the context of the documents.
Times researchers Edith Stanley and D’Jamila Salem-Fitzgerald contributed to this story.
* RENO DENIES COUNSEL BID: Attorney general denies request for outside counsel on donations. A14
* SUBPOENA MIX-UP: Investigators issue subpoenas for the wrong DNC donor. A16