Though he has called for a ban on political contributions of more than $25,000, President Clinton will ask dependable Democratic donors and fund-raisers to come up with 10 times that amount each to bankroll his indebted party.
The Democratic National Committee expects 40 to 50 key financial supporters to meet privately with Clinton today after hearing a briefing on the party’s finances and a pep talk about next year’s congressional and state elections.
Party officials said the guests will be asked to contribute and raise $250,000 apiece. All totaled, that wouldn’t be enough to cover the party’s $16-million debt.
But National Chairman Steve Grossman said the group’s help would be an important start toward raising the $110 million the party will need by November 1998.
At least one Democratic stalwart invited to the meeting says he will hold off on any hefty donations while waiting for Congress and the president to settle the controversy over “soft money,” the unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations and other interests that avoid many legal restrictions on donations.
“I’m worried about it,” said insurance company founder Bernard Rapoport of Waco, Texas. “I think the president’s call for no more soft money is one of the healthiest things that can happen, and it’s a disgrace that Congress won’t act on it.”
Rapoport, a veteran donor who gave more than $150,000 for the 1996 election, said he will wait a few months before deciding whether to resume soft-money donations. Some other longtime donors are rethinking their contributions, too, said Rapoport, who will skip the Washington meeting to attend a party in honor of his wife’s recovery from a broken leg.
Grossman said response to the big-donor meeting has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
He acknowledged, however, that some contributors have been dissuaded by the investigation of foreign contributions to the Democratic Party and other fund-raising controversies.
Clinton has called on Congress and regulators at the Federal Election Commission to ban soft money, a type of giving that is exempt from the current law’s $25,000-per-year legal contribution limit for each donor. Soft money is only supposed to be spent on party-building activities, but both sides poured it into advertising aimed at influencing the presidential race last year.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said that until the law is changed, the Democrats must continue to raise soft money to stay competitive with Republicans.
“We’re not going to unilaterally concede the 1998 election to the Republican Party,” he said.
Donors will be told that about 15 cents of every dollar they give will go toward retiring the party’s debts, Grossman said.