GOP raises $11 million at gala donors are honored; Protesters jeer at guests; party insists it's not as hypocritical as Clinton

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- The uproar over campaign fund-raising abuses has generated two congressional investigations and a Justice Department inquiry, but it has not curbed politicians' mad dash for cash.

Last night the Republican National Committee staged a formal gala at the Washington Hilton, featuring Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and thousands of the party's most generous givers.

Those who pitched in to raise $250,000 or more for the event were invited to share lunch earlier in the day with GOP congressional leaders, pose for photos with Lott and Gingrich, attend a reception with Republican governors and sit at the dais during the evening banquet with other dignitaries.

Those responsible for $100,000 in contributions to the occasion earned the same benefits, except for the seat at the dais.

The estimated haul was $11.3 million, making it one of the largest fund-raisers ever.

Joining the big-money donors at the event, however, was a crowd of protesters. The demonstrators, who included one dressed as a "fat cat," with bags of paper money, condemned the GOP event as another example of Washington money-raising gone wild. As the elegantly dressed guests arrived, pickets jeered them with chants such as, "Show us the money; what are you buying?"

One of those the protesters bellowed at was on their side -- Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who is leading the uphill effort in the Senate for finance reform at the same time that he is helping his party boost its accounts.

The GOP gala was one of a flurry of fund-raisers of both parties in the nation's capital. The 1998 elections may loom on the distant horizon for most, but there are debts to retire, war chests to build and allegiances to solidify.

Although the expanding fund-raising flap has trained a spotlight on the process, insiders said that the money continues to flow -- even if the atmosphere is a bit more uncomfortable.

President Clinton has continued to headline Democratic fund-raisers since the donation controversy erupted last fall. In March, hours after he had called for campaign finance reform, Clinton attended two Democratic fund-raisers that would not have been legal under the reform measures he supports.

Republican officials insisted that they are being far less hypocritical than Clinton.

Disagreeing was Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, one of the political watchdog groups that organized the protests at the GOP fund-raiser. Referring to a fund-raising technique that sparked criticism of the Democrats, Claybrook said, "There's no difference between buying $10,000 cups of coffee at the White House and buying a day of rubbing shoulders with congressional VIPs for $15,000 and up at a ritzy hotel."

Pub Date: 5/14/97

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