Clinton Gets New Legal Defense Fund
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton has a new legal defense fund with higher contribution limits and a board of trustees that includes members of some heavyweight lobbying firms.
The new fund will solicit contributions of up to $10,000 per year _ 10 times the limit imposed by the account that was closed last December due to declining contributions and the fund-raising controversy. The old fund also was prohibited from actively seeking contributions, a restriction that does not apply to the new account.
The trustees said Wednesday they would accept contributions only from individual U.S. citizens _ no lobbyists, political action committees, labor unions or corporations.
But while lobbyists can’t give to the fund, three of the five trustees are partners in law firms registered as lobbyists.
The executive director of the new defense fund, Anthony F. Essaye, is the managing partner in the Washington office of Rogers & Wells, a registered lobbyist and registered foreign agent. His law firm’s clients include the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association and The Associated Press.
Another trustee, H. Maurice Mitchell, is a partner in the law firm of Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard. The law firm’s clients include the Alliance of American Insurers and the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations. Mitchell is counsel to the Arkansas Democratic Party.
Trustee Renee E. Ring is a partner in the New York office of Hunton & Williams, whose clients include the Edison Electric Institute and the Hoechst Celanese Corp. The law firm also is registered as a foreign agent.
And the fund’s counsel, Richard M. Lucas, is an associate in the firm of Arnold & Porter. The law firm is registered as a lobbyist and a foreign agent. Clients include General Mills, Philip Morris and the government of Turkey.
``Because of the potential for conflicts of interest, it would have been better to choose trustees who are neither lobbyists nor members of law firms that lobby,″ said Gary Ruskin, director of the Ralph Nader-affiliated Congressional Accountability Project. ``If there must be a legal defense fund, it’s best that the fund is as separate as possible from favor-seekers and people who have major business pending before the federal government.″
Clinton’s earlier fund last year suffered some unwanted publicity when it returned $640,000 in contributions from fund-raiser Yah Lin ``Charlie″ Trie. The money was returned because of concerns about its origins. That fund’s executive director, Michael H. Cardozo, later testified to Congress about the incident.
To prevent a repeat, both the new fund and the White House counsel’s office will review all donations before the checks are cashed.
Still, the new legal defense fund came under fire Wednesday.
Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal-rights group, said his organization planned to challenge the legality of the fund in court.
``You cannot solicit or receive money while you are a government employee, and Clinton is a government employee,″ Klayman said. ``Obviously people expect something in exchange.″
Essaye said the trustees were aware of the potential for conflicts of interest.
``You’ve just got to accept the fact that is an issue of concern,″ he said. ``If there is something that’s clear cut, we should send it back. Part of it is going to be common sense.″
The fund was set up by former Sen. David H. Pryor, D-Ark. Essaye had drafted Pryor after being asked to set up a new legal defense fund by White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff.
The president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton owe an estimated $3.2 million in legal fees because of the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation, Pryor said.