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Clinton to raise money in Florida

The location of the fundraiser, the home of a prominent sugar grower, disappoints some environmentalists.

By TIM NICKENS Times Political Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 9, 1999


With little public fanfare, President Clinton will fly to Miami on Tuesday to raise $1-million for the Florida Democratic Party as a favor to its state chairman.

But some environmentalists are not pleased with the event's location: the Coral Gables home of sugar grower Alfonso Fanjul, who also has pledged to contribute $50,000 to the state party.

The fundraiser comes two weeks after Vice President Al Gore delivered to Congress a $7.8-billion Everglades restoration plan that is endorsed by South Florida's sugar growers but has lukewarm support from some environmentalists.

"I am disappointed President Clinton is going to participate in the fundraiser," Frank Jackalone, the Florida field representative for the Sierra Club, said Thursday.

Jackalone said he did not believe the fundraiser would be hosted by Fanjul if the Clinton administration's Everglades plan would have proposed taking more land away from the sugar companies. Many environmentalists want the restoration plan to set aside more land to help restore water flow.

"I fear the Fanjuls are trying to give the Clinton administration an incentive not to seek additional land acquisition in the Everglades agricultural area," he said.

The event at Fanjul's home will be limited to 60 people and closed to the media. Florida Democratic Party Chairman Charles Whitehead said the cost is $25,000 per individual or per couple and that one other contributor besides Fanjul has agreed to give $50,000. He would not identify the contributors.

Fanjul said Thursday evening he agreed to host the fundraiser because of his friendship with Whitehead. He said the Everglades legislation did not figure into his decision.

"It really didn't," he said. "I have agreed and disagreed with (Clinton) on environmental issues, but I believe he has been a great president."

Whitehead said he sought Fanjul as the host of the fundraiser, not the White House. He and other state Democratic fundraisers said the Everglades legislation was not a concern in choosing the site.

"That never bothered me at all," Whitehead said.

Added Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Monte Friedkin, who also is raising money for the event: "I think the environmental people should remember that at the end of the day, it is going to take everybody to fix the Everglades. Somehow you get a lot more done working together than working apart."

The Fanjul family contributed more than $575,500 to federal campaigns during the past three election cycles, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. During the same period its sugar companies contributed at least $843,000 directly to the national parties.

While Alfonso Fanjul raised money for Clinton in 1992 and 1996, his brother was a member of Republican Bob Dole's finance committee in 1996 and hosted a fundraiser for him at his Palm Beach mansion.

Alfonso Fanjul's name even was mentioned in Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress. On Feb. 19, 1996, Fanjul called Clinton while the president was with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. Clinton returned Fanjul's call after Lewinsky left and talked for 22 minutes.

Tuesday's fundraiser with the president is unusual because state political parties traditionally receive only a small share of the money. At Whitehead's request, Clinton agreed that all of the money from this event will go to the state party. Whitehead, who held the state chairmanship in the '80s, said the state party was in debt when he took over in April.

Among the officeholders who have been raising money and are expected to attend are U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek of South Florida, Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson and Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

"This is for the survival of the party," Whitehead said in defending the big-dollar donations he's collecting. "If I could have, I would have had 500 people at $1,000 per person and we would have had a great time. It's not what you would like to do. It is what we have to do to make the party financially sound."

Indirectly, the fundraiser also should help Gore's presidential campaign in Florida. A financially stable state party would be better positioned to field a stronger slate of state candidates and develop get-out-the-vote programs that could give Gore a boost.

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