President Clinton and top aides were intimately involved in orchestrating a broad campaign fund-raising operation during his first term and explicitly authorized the use of the White House as a tool to woo or reward big donors, according to internal documents released Tuesday.
Although the president has portrayed himself as removed from the money-collecting tactics that have spurred congressional and criminal investigations, the records show he took a hands-on role in directing the effort down to small details.
Among other things, Clinton personally authorized a variety of perks for top party contributors, including golf games and morning jogs with him and overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, the documents show.
Memos written by close advisers confirm that small White House gatherings with the president were intended to stroke wealthy backers. The documents include references to "Coffee w/Top 20 Fundraisers," "donor events . . . in the White House East Wing" and "servicing dinners (White House)" for those who chipped in at least $100,000.
Clinton was so personally involved in the quest that he sought the names of other large donors to be feted at the White House and wrote out in longhand a draft direct-mail solicitation in which he pleaded with supporters to "please send us a check now _ anything you can afford. . . . And share this report with your friends and neighbors. Copy it. Fax it."
During a brief exchange with reporters Tuesday, Clinton denied trading White House sleep-overs for large checks, saying his motive in inviting contributors to stay at the executive mansion was to soothe the bruised feelings of supporters who considered themselves shut out since his election in 1992.
"A lot of the people that helped me get elected president in '92 thought that they had gotten estranged, in effect, from me, that we had not kept in touch with them," he said. ". . . I wanted to ask some of my friends who had helped me when I got elected president, that I hadn't been in touch with, to come to the White House and spend the night with me.
"I did not have any strangers here. The Lincoln Bedroom was never "sold.' That was one more false story we have had to endure."
The 6-inch stack of documents was compiled by former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, who gave them to investigators last week.
"I think the president misled the American people at the least," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of a House oversight panel investigating campaign finance abuses. "He said the Lincoln Bedroom was not for sale. Now we got his handwritten note _ there's no question what it refers to."
The files document how tightly the White House, in the form of Ickes, controlled the Democratic National Committee and used it as an arm of Clinton's re-election campaign. Schedules, budgets, promotional brochures and even letters of complaint from DNC headquarters tracked their way through Ickes' office.
In Ickes' files, the idea of using overnight stays in connection with campaign fund raising first appeared in writing in the White House response to a Jan. 5, 1995, memo from Terence R. McAuliffe, then national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who outlined several strategies to "energize" generous givers.
Clinton welcomed the idea. "Ready to start overnights right away," he scrawled in response.
McAuliffe included a list of "our ten top supporters" as possible beneficiaries of special access, but that wasn't enough for Clinton. "Get other names at 100,000 or more, 50,000 or more," he wrote.
While it appears from the note that the president was seeking more donors to whom favors could be dispensed, aides said Tuesday that Clinton simply asked so that he would know how much they had given when he next encountered big contributors.
"He said, "I want to see who these people are who've helped because when I see them again, I want to acknowledge them,' " said deputy communications director Ann Lewis.