Legal Fund for Clintons Falls Short in Final Accounting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The legal defense fund for former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised only $750,000 over the last eight months, leaving the Clintons nearly $4 million short of paying the enormous legal bills they have incurred since 1994.

Providing a final accounting, trustees of the fund said Wednesday that it had received more than 116,400 individual contributions since its establishment three years ago, with donations averaging $75 each. A total of 138 people gave the maximum allowable gift of $10,000 a year.

In all, the fund has received $8.7 million since its formation in February 1998 and applied $7.4 million of that toward the Clintons' legal bills after paying its administrative expenses, direct mailing costs, salaries and accounting. But the legal payments fall $3.9 million short of the $11.3 million in legal expenses incurred by the Clintons, Anthony F. Essaye, the fund's executive director, told reporters.

No donations linked to individuals granted clemency by Clinton were received in recent months, Essaye said, although the ex-wife and a daughter of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich each contributed $10,000 to the fund soon after its inception. Essaye said that the fund's contribution records have not been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors or congressional investigators.

The bulk of the legal payments has gone to the Clintons' two private lawyers, David E. Kendall and Robert S. Bennett, Essaye said.

The lawyers' bills resulted from former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigations of a broad array of matters referred to as Whitewater, after an Arkansas land deal, and Clinton's relationship with onetime White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. Other bills were related to a follow-up investigation by Starr successor Robert W. Ray, the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and the congressional impeachment battle, according to fund trustees. They offered no breakdown of expenses by category.

Essaye said he was uncertain when the fund would officially close down operations, although "the idea always had been to assist the Clintons only while he was president, and frankly donations have been tailing off." He said the fund was required to provide Sen. Clinton with a first-quarter report by April on funds applied to any bills remaining this year.

The $750,000 donated to the fund over the last eight months was the smallest amount for any reporting period, according to trustees. The fund collected $950,000 during the first six months of last year and $800,000 during the preceding half-year period.

By contrast, in the first 18 months of the fund's existence, a period that included the Lewinsky investigation, the Jones lawsuit and the impeachment proceedings, it received more than $6 million in donations.

Commenting on the shortfall in covering all of the Clintons' bills, Essaye said: "Our original goal was to reduce the financial burden on the president, but his legal fees went way beyond our expectations."

He said trustees "will meet with the former president and his staff soon" to discuss the remaining bills. Clinton previously agreed not to seek taxpayer reimbursement of legal fees for the Lewinsky investigation, although he might qualify as the target of an independent counsel who was not indicted.

Eight donors contributed the maximum $10,000 during the last reporting period. They included Dennis W. Bakke, an Arlington, Va., industrialist and his wife, Eileen, and Nashville stockbroker Richard J. Eskind and his wife, Jane.

The others were Kevin P. O'Sullivan, a retired New York television executive, and his wife, Carole; Dallas attorney Frederick M. Baron; and Earl B. Sloan of Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Rules of the trust prohibited donations from non-U.S. citizens, corporations, labor unions, registered lobbyists and employees of the executive branch of government.

During the last three years, the fund returned about $40,000 to people who were deemed ineligible to contribute, Essaye said. Clinton was prohibited by the Ethics in Government Act from personally soliciting contributions.

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Times researcher Robin Cochran contributed to this story.

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