Sunday, May 15, 2005

Hillary's Own Fundraising Scandal

For a man who has been in prison for several months, Aaron Tonken is turning up in all sorts of places. His photograph appeared last week in The Washington Times and the Charlottesville Daily Progress. His name turns up in a major article in today's Observer (a British left-of-center "quality paper") that begins:

It all sounds horribly familiar. Financial skulduggery, calls for a Senate investigation and the whiff of a sex scandal caught on tape. And all of it whirling around the Clinton name.

A court case involving the fundraising activities of Senator Hillary Clinton's former campaign finance chief threatens to put a time-bomb under the former First Lady's presidential ambitions.
Late last year, shortly after he was sent up the river, Tonken published a book called King of Cons: Exposing the Dirty, Rotten Secrets of the Washington Elite and Hollywood Celebrities. In it, Tonken describes the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of both political and charity fundraising. Here's an excerpt:
There is also a category called "in-kind" contributions. This covers, among other things, expenses incurred in the putting on of such events as the Salute [to President Clinton, a Hillary fundraiser]. These are supposed to be meticulously recorded and accounted for when a political fundraising entity makes its annual report of income and expenditures.

Thus, if Cher agrees to perform for a fundraiser, she can elect to do it for free, in which case the campaign is not obligated to place a value on her performance and report it. On the other hand, if she is paid by the campaign, that is a reportable expense. If she is paid indirectly, by someone like me, then I become the donor of record, and her performance becomes an in-kind contribution. It must be reported. Also included, and therefore subject to reporting, would be such things as air travel expenses, hotel bills, ground transportation, and so on.

It is these in-kind contributions that, in my experience, are seldom properly reported. Certainly, that was the impression from my dealings with Hillary Clinton's staffers. All told, I spent millions on expenses for fundraisers that I organized for her. How much was ultimately reported I don't know, but it couldn't have been much, since no one ever asked me for a detailed accounting. And, as I have noted, when I tried to offer campaign officials receipts, they were refused.

Considering these irregularities, the naturally-occurring questions are: who knew what, and when did they know it? Those are the questions that have started many a political figure's downfall.

All I can say is that David Rosen, Hillary Clinton's director of finance, worked out of our offices and knew about every dime that was being spent. More than that, he participated in the spending.

Just before Tonken went to prison, venerable Hollywood gossip columnist Army Archerd wrote a synopsis of what took Tonken from the high life to Club Fed in Daily Variety:
Tonken is involved in California, federal and local lawsuits ranging from the fraud charges to Chapter 7, plus a countersuit vs. David Schwimmer who has sued Tonken for defamation. Tonken's book names a long list of celebs who took fees -- and demanded more -- for so-called charitable appearances. The extent of some of the celeb demands, Tonken says are beyond imagination. The Federal Election Commission has also demanded information from Tonken on a fundraising event for Hillary Clinton's senatorial campaign he headed. (It was sponsored by New York Senate 2000). Tonken's association with the Clintons was remarkable in view of his minor status in the establishment. How did this comparative newcomer gain the confidences of so many in the showbiz and political community? All in the name of charity. He claims he took none of the funds for himself. The book unravels an incredible rollout of cash and goods to the celeb participants in the charity events.

It's amazing that Tonken got off so easy, with just 63 months. And it's amazing how a man in prison can get so much press despite his, shall we say, incapacitation.

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