New Clinton Legal Defense Fund Created
By Wolf Blitzer/CNN
WASHINGTON (Feb. 18) -- With their legal bills already approaching $4 million and skyrocketing because of the Monica Lewinsky allegations, President and Mrs. Clinton have authorized a new legal defense fund.
Supporters of the president, led by former Arkansas Sen. David Pryor, announced the establishment of the Clinton Legal Expense Trust on Wednesday. "The tremendous financial burden that this couple faces is unprecedented. It vastly exceeds the president's compensation. It vastly exceeds his or her financial resources," Pryor said.
The Clintons' private lawyers, including Bob Bennett and David Kendall, are among the most expensive in Washington, each billing several hundred dollars an hour.
The new fund eliminates some of the self-imposed restrictions on the original fund, which closed down at the end of last year after money simply stopped coming in.
The major changes include:
- The maximum contribution for the new fund is $10,000 per person per year, as opposed to the earlier $1,000.
- The new fund will solicit and advertise, including direct mail campaigns, something that was prohibited the last time around.
- After considering accepting contributions from lobbying groups, political action committees, labor unions and corporations, the new fund decided to limit donations to individuals.
The old fund's problems were the result, in part, of the huge embarrassment when the fund had to return some $600,000 raised by now-indicted Clinton fund-raiser Charlie Trie.
Critics say there is still a serious potential for abuse. The Center for Responsive Politics' Kent Cooper said, "When you look at a corporate leader or a union leader, or a lobbyist, saying, why would they give $10,000, is it part of their lobbying plan for some type of access buying. It opens the whole arena up to questions in the public's mind."
Not so, says the White House.
"This is being done consistent with government ethics, rules, regulations and also with what is obviously the proper way to do business," insisted White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
Heading up the new fund will be Tony Essaye, a well-known Washington lawyer with close ties to the Democratic party. In addition to Pryor, other trustees include businessmen Kenneth Bartels and Roger Johnson, and lawyers Maurice Mitchell and Renee Ring.
In addition to the Lewinsky matter, the Clintons' legal bills stem from Whitewater, the campaign fund-raising controversy and the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
Legal bills are said to be increasing dramatically, especially because Clinton's insurance companies have stopped paying bills in connection with the Jones suit.
To pay current bills, the president's friends say they say they need 400 wealthy supporters to come up with $10,000 each; that would raise $4 million. Says one fund-raiser: "That shouldn't be very hard."