TO Republicans, the Whitewater hearings show that Bill Clinton
peddled his influence as governor of Arkansas and then tried to
cover his tracks once he became president. To Democrats, they're a
senseless political smear job.
But beyond the partisanship that has colored these hearings over
the last four weeks, the Whitewater case has at times provided some
If nothing else, Whitewater demonstrates the lengths that a
budding politician, in this case Mr. Clinton, has to go to raise
money - and how difficult it can be to walk the fund-raising trail
without tripping any ethical land mines.
As much as President Clinton is on trial here, says Ellen
Miller, president of the Center for Responsive Politics in
Washington, so should be the current freewheeling system of
campaign finance in American politics.
"I've always said that from the beginning, Whitewater was all
about money," Ms. Miller says. The current system of private
campaign finance, she adds, "can corrupt even the candidates who
swear they will never be corrupted."
The Whitewater affair began 17 years ago when then-governor
Clinton and his wife, Hillary, joined forces with Arkansas
businessman James McDougal to buy a tract of land on the White
River in the Ozarks. The partners paid for the property with
$200,000 in bank loans and began advertising the site as an ideal
place to build a home.
Republicans contend that in the following years, Mr. McDougal
illegally transferred funds from Madison Guaranty - a savings and
loan he owned until the government closed it in 1989 - in a futile
attempt to keep the Whitewater venture afloat. They also suggest
that the Clintons' knew about these shady dealings, and engaged in
some of their own: particularly doing political favors for McDougal
and other business associates, who, in turn, helped pay off some of
their campaign debts.
"In a nutshell," says Iowa Rep. Jim Leach (R) who chairs the
House hearings, "Whitewater is about the arrogance of power:
conflicts of interest that are self-evidently unseemly."
Indeed, the possibility of conflicts of interest in the
Whitewater case are not hard to imagine. For years, McDougal served
as an economic development advisor to Governor Clinton and used his
name as a reference in business deals. Meanwhile, there are several
records of McDougal paying off large chunks of Clinton's debt.
FOR sure, Miller says, the Clintons were involved in complicated
financial dealings with McDougal and others in which their
political influence may have played a role. …