Molly Ivins April 5
AUSTIN — As scholars of presidential scandal will recall, Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money." It's still good advice.
(By the way, research for this column had already begun before I discovered that James Carville was all over television urging people to "look at the money." I just wanted to explain that the following is not the result of Carville's prompting — we all hate to look as though we had been influenced by spin doctors these days.)
Anyway, among the many interesting players in this regard:
— Peter W. Smith is a right-wing fund-raiser and generous contributor ($150,000) to House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political action committee GOPAC. Smith admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times that he spent $80,000 between September 1992 and March 1994 to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton. Smith paid the two Arkansas state troopers who were interviewed for David Brock's now-famous American Spectator article $6,700 each and another $6,600 to their lawyer, as well as contributing $25,000 to a fund set up for the troopers. He also paid for legal advice, GOP political and public relations consultants, and Brock's research expenses.
— Salon, an on-line magazine, reports that David Hale, a witness in the Whitewater trials, has financial ties to a $2.4 million anti-Clinton project funded by Richard Mellon Scaife. Hale, who served 20 months in prison for defrauding the Small Business Administration by making a fraudulent loan to Susan McDougal, claims that he was pressured to make the loan by then-Gov. Clinton, who denies it. Hale had already pleaded guilty to two felonies and received a reduction of his sentence in exchange for his testimony against Clinton.
While Hale was a cooperating witness for independent counsel Kenneth Starr, he reportedly received cash payments and the use of a fishing cabin and car. These payments are said to have come through a man whom the American Spectator supposedly paid $35,000 to act as its "eyes and ears" on Whitewater. If true, this is the first known case of a small political magazine ever paying more than the high two figures.
— According to Salon, the always interesting Scaife — the right-wing Pittsburg billionaire with an anti-Clinton obsession — has funded the Spectator ($600,000 in 1996) and the Western Journalism Center ($250,000 in 1995), which in turn funded Christopher Ruddy, who wrote the conspiracy-riddled book "The Strange Death of Vincent Foster."
Scaife gave $1.1 million to Pepperdine University in California to fund a joint appointment — as dean of the law school and dean of the new School of Public Policy. As soon as he gets through investigating Clinton, that appointment will be taken by Starr. Just what the world needs: another right-wing think tank.
Scaife also funds Accuracy in Media (another misnomer), a right-wing media watchdog outfit; Brent Bozell's Media Research Center; and Paul Weyrich's National Empowerment Television.
— Also according to Salon: Jerry Falwell, working with the inaptly named Citizens for Honest Government, promoted and co-financed two hideous smear videos alleging that Clinton was involved in drug smuggling and murder. CHG secretly paid more than $200,000 between 1994 and 1996 to people who made allegations against Clinton, including the aforementioned Arkansas state troopers.
— Paula Jones said at one time that she did not want money for her lawsuit against Clinton and that any judgment she received would go to a Little Rock charity. However, early in 1994, she expressed an interest in selling the story to a tabloid, suggesting that $500,000 "could last her a long time," according to Arkansas state trooper Danny Ferguson, as reported in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn.
Her contract with her first lawyer had provisions for television, radio and movie deals. Her egregious spokeswoman Susan Carpenter McMillan flatly rejected the idea that Jones should not sell her story for a book or a movie. (In one of the high points of the whole tawdry mess, McMillan, standing outside Jones' apartment on the day that Judge Susan Webber Wright threw out the case, said of the rain coming down that "the angels are weeping.") Jones reportedly turned down a $700,000 settlement offer just a few months ago and held out for the full $2 million.
Money from a recent fund-raising campaign for Jones' lawsuit, $100,000 so far, goes to a private bank account under her control, according to Salon. The fund-raising letter specifically stated, "Funds are needed now for litigation expenses," the magazine says. But according the media reports, Jones has used the money for clothes, beauty salons, a spa, etc. A contract that Jones signed in 1997 guarantees her another $200,000. Jones did not get any money for the photographs her former boyfriend sold to Penthouse.
— According to The Commercial Appeal, Gennifer Flowers (who at least slept with Clinton) says she has made $500,000 from selling her story. She got $150,000 from the original tabloid story in 1992 and was later paid $200,000 for posing for Penthouse magazine. She has also written a book, but her career as a lounge singer is somewhat stalled.
— Dolly Kyle Browning, one of the saddest figures in the soap opera, was represented by literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp's buddy, when she tried to sell her book. She is now self-published.
— Kathleen Willey wanted a $300,000 book deal for her story of a pass made in the White House. Willey's lawyer Daniel Gecker also spent five months negotiating with a tabloid, the Star, asking for $350,000. According to the New York Daily News, a source at the Star said that "Gecker wanted to make a lot of money for her to pay back her debt and then have some money for herself. If he couldn't do that, she would go 'upscale' with the interview, give it for free and then try to get a book deal."
And so it goes. Just because these women wanted money for their stories does not mean the stories are untrue, but it does go to credibility. In the old days, before the media took to rushing into print and on the air with any tale that came along, we used to check out such things first.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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