WASHINGTON -- Much like his public approval ratings, contributions to President Clinton's legal defense fund increased last year, yielding more than $4.5 million for his and his wife's mounting legal bills.
In releasing results of their direct-mail appeal on behalf of the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, trustees of the Clinton Legal Expense Trust said yesterday that more than 50,000 Americans have made donations to defray their legal bills.
The second half of the year was slightly more successful than the first, bringing in $2.3 million of the total.
Former Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas, a longtime Clinton friend who founded the trust a year ago, said more than half of the contributions were for $25 or less and that 95 percent were under $200.
The list of donors also included some of the president's Hollywood supporters and business chieftains who donated the maximum $10,000 permitted under the fund's rules.
The trust fund is intended "to ameliorate" the Clintons' financial woes but might not resolve them, said Anthony F. Essaye, executive director of the fund.
The Clintons are paying off $9 million in bills from their private attorneys on the long-running Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations and the president's impeachment battle.
Mailings have gone to 600,000 potential donors over the past year, and additional appeals will be sent in the coming months.
The fund also established a Web site on the Internet in recent weeks, officials said.
Fund trustee Azie Taylor Morton, a businesswoman from Austin, Texas, and a former U.S. treasurer, said letters accompanying many small contributions showed a wellspring of support for Clinton.
Mailing lists largely have been obtained from the Democratic National Committee, and many of the maximum contributions have been raised by Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of the president who headed the 1997 inaugural committee.
Beth Dozoretz, a friend of the Clintons who has raised more than $2 million in political contributions for Democratic candidates, has assisted McAuliffe.
Donor lists released by the fund show contributions of $10,000 from such entertainment figures as singer Tony Bennett and Lew R. Wasserman, chairman emeritus of Universal Studios.
Business executives who gave $10,000 included New York investment banker Steven Rattner; Sol Price of La Jolla, Calif., founder of the Price Club chain of stores; and Robert L. Johnson of Washington, D.C., president of Black Entertainment Television.
The rules of the trust, approved by the White House counsel's office, are intended to avoid ethical problems.
They prohibit donations from non-U.S. citizens, corporations, labor unions, registered lobbyists and employees of the executive branch of government.
Charles Lewis, who heads the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, said in a recent interview that such restrictions do not remove all ethical concerns.
Officials stressed that none of the fund's contributions were used late last year to pay the president's $850,000 settlement of Paula Corbin Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit.
Pub Date: 2/25/99