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Fund may not cover Clinton bills

Donations to the Clintons' legal defense fund have slowed in recent months and organizers say they will not be able to cover all the bills by the end of the president's term unless the pace picks up.

The trust has raised $6.3-million in a year and a half, but the Clintons' bills so far total $10.5-million and still are rising, the fund's trustees said Thursday. So far, the fund has paid $4.5-million toward those bills for legal expenses of the president and Mrs. Clinton. The fund also has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailed solicitations.

In the first six months of the year, the fund collected $2.4-million, much of it around the time of Clinton's acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial Feb. 12.

"The contributions were very intensive for the year all the way through March," said the fund's executive director, Anthony Essaye.

"Since then, there's been no question, since it's been out of the news . . . with other campaigns starting to kick up . . . we've started to see a downturn. And I expect that will continue," said Essaye.

Major donors already have contributed $20,000 apiece to the Clinton fund over the past 18 months, including Hollywood's Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen; Los Angeles grocer Ron Burkle, who last year traveled with Clinton to Africa, where Burkle's grocery chain does a lot of business; and Eli Broad, chairman and chief executive officer of SunAmerica, a specialist in retirement funds that got regulatory approval last year for its purchase by commercial insurance giant American International Group.

In the first six months of 1999, 57 donors including clothing designer Ralph Lauren gave $10,000 apiece, the maximum allowed annually by the fund.

Former Sen. David Pryor, the trust's founder, said he wants to "make certain this first family does not leave the White House with an enormous debt on its shoulders."

The Clintons earned more than $500,000 last year and the first lady looked at a $1.7-million seven-bedroom colonial this week in New York, where she is considering running for the Senate. In June, she checked out a $3.8-million estate.

Essaye said it is probable that the defense fund will not cover the legal bills by the time the president leaves office if donations continue at their current level.

The Clintons can seek government reimbursement for some of their legal costs stemming from Kenneth Starr's criminal investigation.

According to an analysis of contributions by the non-partisan FECInfo, the trust has raised the most money in California, $1.4-million, then New York, $748,376, and Florida, $364,579.

_ Information from Scripps Howard was used in this report.