Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Rides Again

Hillary Haters Go Wild Over Campaign-Finance Acquittal

"She has perpetrated this fraud on the Senate, the FEC, and the American people," Fitton said, as the trial progressed, shrugging off the prosecutors' statements proclaiming Clinton's innocence. "That doesn't mean there isn't any evidence she was involved," he argued. "It just means they are keeping the evidence out."

For Republicans, it seems, the Rosen trial couldn't have come at a better time. Shaun Bowler, a University of California political science professor who has followed the case, thinks the GOP would have been delighted to see any prominent Democrat caught up in a campaign finance scandal. After all, he noted, "It gives Republicans some way to distract attention from Tom DeLay." (The avowedly nonpartisan Judicial Watch—to its credit—has gone after DeLay for years, and is comparing the Rosen case to the charges of campaign finance irregularities swirling around the House majority leader these days.)

Now, right-wingers get to remind people of all the Clinton White House scandals—Travelgate, Whitewater, Webster Hubbell. "This makes the 'Hillary as piñata' act brand-new again," Bowler said.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Official Photo

To Clinton's backers, of course, this sounds a lot like the vast right-wing conspiracy saddling up again. And the only reason for Republicans' obsession with the Rosen trial, they argue, has been the fear that the senator would make a formidable presidential contender. Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who worked on President Clinton's 1996 re-election bid, summed it up this way: "It's national politics. The right-wingers want to try to do anything they can to stop her from being elected president."

Then again, he added, "I'd be surprised if her people didn't know how to deal with it."

Party Gone Out of Bounds

The Los Angeles trial of David Rosen, Hillary Clinton's former chief fundraiser, centered on a Hollywood bash that got a little out of control—at least with regard to expenses. Prosecutors highlighted how celebrities like Cher demanded to be flown in by private jet, costing as much as $31,000. The tab for talent alone hit $90,000.

Another accounting of the August 12, 2000, fundraiser can be found in an ethics complaint filed against Senator Clinton by Judicial Watch, which argues that she had to have known the gala cost more than her finance chief reported. The seven-page complaint comes with another 500 pages of exhibits, including the canceled checks. The grand total topped $1.1 million. Here's a very partial list of what it went for:

$5,309.32 to cover the Brentwood estate's pool with Astroturf.

$4,442 for two "restroom trailers," or portable potties.

$5,790 to print invitations.

$3,300 to deliver them all by courier.

$6,057 for a bus to shuttle guests to the estate's front door.

$63,788.48 for Spago catering.

$10,000 for "talent coordination services," specifically Cher's two-song performance.

$10,400 for "awards" to present President Bill Clinton and Hillary.

$30,048.31 for performers' travel.

$900 for three convection ovens with five racks apiece.

$72 for four fire extinguishers.

$727 for three "stand-by" men to help the guests.

$332 for the men's "helpers."

$279.35 for 37 plastic washtubs for the bar.

$224.75 for trash cans.

$46.50 for sugar tongs.

Hillary's people played it safe—working damage control by ignoring the entire matter. Clinton press aides refused to comment on the trial's developments. And when Capitol Hill reporters asked Clinton about the case, she reportedly shrugged her shoulders. Only Howard Wolfson, the senator's adviser, commented on the trial, saying simply that he expected Rosen would be acquitted.

"It's a fact of life that the right will seek to use this trial for political ends," Wolfson told the Voice. But the senator, he added, "has a remarkable ability to focus on the things that are important."

Indeed, the senator's office continues to issue one news release after another touting her latest endeavors—how she traveled to New York military bases to fight against Pentagon closures, for example, or scored federal firefighter and transportation funds for the state. She has even managed to get good press without the help of her aides. On May 14, she delivered a commencement speech at a Georgia women's college, provoking the graduates to screams of glee and, in the words of one local news account, "mass hysteria." And she shared a podium May 11 with Republican Newt Gingrich, to endorse legislation that would streamline record keeping in the nation's health care system. The appearance made headlines for more than five days, overshadowing her foes' fulminations about the trial.

Much depended, of course, on the trial's outcome. Worst-case scenario for Clinton would have been Rosen's conviction—a real possibility in light of the number of witnesses who testified that he knew the event's costs were spiraling out of control, and tried to conceal them. A conviction could have made for an embarrassing situation for Clinton. The campaign might have been fined, based on the complex formula governing the expense of campaign events.

Still, Clinton would not be the first politician who has faced such problems. Case in point: the 1996 presidential campaigns. A vice chairman of Bob Dole's bid confessed to making $120,000 in illegal political contributions—more than half to Dole's campaign—and received the harshest penalty ever levied in a campaign finance case at the time—six months of home confinement and $6 million in fines. Al Gore's appearance at a Buddhist temple in L.A. that same year became symbolic of the Democratic fundraising scandal that was the subject of Senate hearings and criminal prosecutions.

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