Washington Prowler

Lemon Pledges

The Clinton Library is finding many promised payments to be overdue -- and 5¢-a-day fines won't make up the shortfall.

By 5.15.02

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Bill Clinton does what he can for Arkansas tourism. He's appeared in ads for the state tourism board, as well as for the tourism offices of state capital Little Rock and one of his many "home towns," Hot Springs. Now, it appears the state and local tourism industry is doing what it can for its native son.

In national, and even international advertising, the state is pushing the William Jefferson Clinton Library and museum as a site for future social, business or political events. The advertising campaign comes at a time when the library foundation that is raising money for the presidential facility is facing dwindling fundraising opportunities.

It's true that Clinton's speaking schedule is chock full with paying customers overseas (it even has a few in the U.S.), and that some of those earnings are being poured into foundation coffers. But because Clinton's library had no endowment or other major backing when it started, it's had to rely on the kindness and cash of supporters. That has meant going back to many of Clinton's longtime campaign donors, corporate backers, and foreign admirers. (Earlier this year Clinton traveled to Saudi Arabia to hit up Crown Prince Abdullah for a multi-million dollar donation.)

Another problem: although many individuals have made pledges to the library, prying the money out of their wallets has been another matter altogether. "You look at the ledger and we have all kinds of money pledged," says an Arkansas source familiar with the library finances. "But those pledges aren't translating into hard donations as quickly as we'd like." Some put the financial shortfall at more than $30-$40 million. It could be greater than that.

Many who pledged to the library before Clinton left office withdrew or cut their pledges after the pardons scandal of the administration's final days. Others donors have seen their financial positions reduced by the stock market dip. Others simply aren't paying. The slow fundraising process is particularly embarrassing to Clinton, in part because other presidents had so little difficulty in getting their libraries up and running. "But none of them had such grandiose a vision, either," says a Washington-based Clinton backer. "I've seen Nixon's and Reagan's and they are wonderful facilities, but Clinton sees himself and the library on a different level. A higher level, and of course a higher price."

So could the library, once constructed, soon be hosting weddings and bar mitzvahs to keep the cash rolling in? "Don't joke about something like that," says the source. "You never can tell."

Clinton, however, may have one big benefactor waiting in the wings. Lately, Clinton has been talking about AIDS in Africa as a major issue for him. Although he may have raised that issue at times in the past, it never was as central to his future as it appears now. That's because Clinton is apparently angling to get a major donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to underwrite activities by Clinton and the library. "One donation from them could solve our financial problems," says the Arkansas source.

Evidently Clinton doesn't think Bill Gates will hold his Justice Department's anti-Microsoft crusade against him.

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