First Family's Vacations Are on the House
For many Americans, summer vacation means plunking down the credit card at the Holiday Inn, writing a big check for that tiny (didn't the ad describe it as "cozy?") beach cottage, or hooking up the trailer and heading for the mountains. Vacations may mean splurging for a family holiday at Disney World or economizing by camping out on Uncle Ed's lumpy couch.But for the First Family, vacationing is hardly the typical American experience.Last month, President Clinton spent three weeks relaxing at the Martha's Vineyard estate of Boston real estate developer Richard L. Friedman. Had Friedman rented his island property for that stretch of the high season, he could have collected at least $10,000, according to reports in Boston newspapers.The president didn't pay a dime, but thanks to a loophole in federal ethics laws, he won't report the free vacation as a gift. "He's staying at the home of a friend," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told The Washington Times. "It's proper for the president to go ahead on his vacation and stay at the home of a friend."In this case, the president's friend also happens to be a generous campaign contributor with a stake in pending federal action.Friedman contributed $11,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the 1995-96 election cycle. He's given thousands more to Democrats in recent years, including $1,420 to the Clinton/Gore campaigns of 1992 and 1996. Clinton returned the hospitality in December 1995, when he hosted Friedman for a Lincoln Bedroom sleepover.Friedman's hospitality came as he was battling the federal General Services Administration about plans for build a 350-room hotel at City Hall Plaza in Boston, the Boston Herald has reported. The GSA has opposed the project, which it fears would cast a shadow over the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and create security problems there, the newspaper reported.The White House has said the issue has never come up in discussions between Friedman and the president, but the Herald reported that Friedman has not been shy about asking other beneficiaries of his generosity to weigh in on his behalf. Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) queried GSA officials about the project at Friedman's request, the Herald reported. "The last thing I would ever think of doing would be to impose on our friendship by discussing any matter concerning my personal business," Friedman told the Herald.One vacation host who got a plum presidential appointment was the late southern California businessman M. Larry Lawrence, a big Democratic fund-raiser and contributor. After Clinton won the presidency in 1992, Lawrence, owner of the opulent Hotel del Coronado on the oceanfront near San Diego, was named ambassador to Switzerland. His wife, Sheila, who headed the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign in Southern California, was tapped as special U.S. representative to the World Conservation Union in Geneva.Lawrence's qualifications were challenged during confirmation proceedings, and he failed to win Senate Foreign Affairs Committee backing after describing neutral Switzerland as a "U.S. ally." To make matters worse, the Federal Election Commission hit him with a $7, 179 penalty for exceeding the $20,000 annual limit on campaign confirmations during 1988. The full Senate eventually OK'd the nomination in February 1994. About a month later, Lawrence gave the Clintons the keys to his 20,000-square-foot beachfront villa for a rent-free Easter vacation.Larry and Sheila Lawrence were overnight guests of the Clintons in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom. Lawrence died in January 1996.Longtime Clinton friend Phil Lader, who has hosted the annual New Year's Renaissance Weekends on Hilton Head Island that the Clintons have attended for years, was tapped this year for perhaps the most prestigious diplomatic posting: ambassador to Great Britain. Lader previously served as deputy White House chief of staff and headed the Small Business Administration.President Clinton and Wall Street mogul Max C. Chapman Jr. were introduced in 1995 on a Wyoming golf course, while the Clintons vacationed at Sen. John D. Rockefeller's Jackson Hole ranch. Although Chapman is a stanch Republican -- his 1995-95 contributions included donations to GOP contenders Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes -- he and the president reportedly hit it off on the golf course. Clinton later invited Chapman to the White House for overnight visits and, last summer, Chapman let the Clintons vacation free at his Wyoming ranch.Chapman was chief executive officer from 1989 until May 1996 at Nomura Securities International, the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese brokerage house. While the businessman and Clinton were becoming friends, the New York Stock Exchange was investigating Nomura and Chapman for a possible failure to supervise charge, according to published reports. In November 1995 -- neither admitting nor denying guilt -- the firm paid a $1 million fine, the third largest ever in NYSE history.The Clintons spent a few days in August 1993 in the Arkansas vacation home owned by James Blair and his wife Diane. Blair is a lawyer for Tyson Foods, a big Arkansas company and longtime Clinton backer. Blair also was Hillary Rodham Clinton's financial adviser when she made a tidy profit on the commodities market in 1978 and 1979. The Blairs -- who were among the overnight guests at the White House -- continue to be big Democratic Party donors."Capital Eye" is a publication of the Center for Responsive Politics. Its goal is to educate readers, encourage them to examine the role of money in the U.S. political system and explore its effect on the workings of our democracy.