Thursday, February 27, 1997
Latest trend: political
slumber party

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Did anybody here really think Carl Lindner was invited to spend the night at the White House because Hillary wanted to play Yahtzee with him? Or because he promised to bring bananas for Chelsea's Cheerios the next morning?

Is it news to anybody that the president personally approved plans to invite big party donors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom? Although this is the nation's house and not a Motel 6, surely we all think that Mr. Clinton knows who is sleeping there. And why.

''Ready to start overnights right away,'' the president wrote in a note listing names of the Democratic Party's $50,000 and $100,000 supporters. In the same note from January 1995, he approved coffees and lunches at the White House. ''Yes, pursue all three and promptly,'' he wrote.

No wonder. Peter Knight, chairman of the Clinton-Gore campaign, projected a minimum $350,000 ''take'' from White house coffees. Time is money.

BYO groceries

In all, 938 people were overnight guests during Mr. Clinton's first term. Television producer Harry Thomason is listed along with 369 others designated as Arkansas friends.

When I accused the Clintons three years ago in a national radio commentary of using the official residence as their own personal bed-and-breakfast, Mr. Thomason called to tell me that he and his wife, Linda, bring their own groceries.

So maybe Mr. Lindner did bring some bananas. Maybe he even handed out pints of Cookies n' Cream. But that's not why he was invited. The Lindner family and his company, American Financial Corp., have donated more than $350,000 to the Democratic Party since 1992 and at least $794,000 to the Republican Party. There's more where that came from.

The fund-raiser-in-chief is not alone, of course. Nobody gets elected these days without being able to get out the money. And George Bush let Rush Limbaugh stay at the White House, for pete's sake.

Candidates spent nearly $1 billion in the 1996 federal elections, a 73 percent jump over the 1992 races, according to the Federal Election Commission. Closer to home, two years ago, 18 candidates spent a total of $2.332 million chasing jobs on Cincinnati's city council.

Unless we actually reform campaign spending, I think we can all guess what this means. Political slumber parties.

Here in Cincinnati, coffees and lunches have been done to death. Nobody is surprised anymore to be solicited for a $1,000 breakfast featuring a candidate, a bagel and a glass of juice. The diners pay for access, not eggs Benedict. And the more you pay, the closer you get.

Congressman Rob Portman has a nice house in Terrace Park, so I checked with his wife, Jane, to see whether the Portmans are going to hop aboard this fund-raising gravy train. She reports no immediate plans for sleep-overs, ''although we do have sleeping bags under the kids' beds.'' I can just picture Procter & Gamble's John Pepper curled up in a Honey Bear bag.

Well, maybe that's not a good example. The Portman home is a private residence.

Clean rug, shooters

So I called Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman. I could tell right away that he grasped the potential. ''We could use the headquarters,'' he says. The Democratic Party headquarters is on the fourth floor of 615 Main St. Guests who would like a shot and a beer for breakfast can repair to the nearby Bay Horse Cafe, which opens at 5:30 every morning and serves a ''deluxe'' steak sandwich for $1.50.

''If we had slumber parties,'' Mr. Burke says, ''we'd probably have to get the rug cleaned.'' He also worries that he might have to invest in a futon.

''Look, Tim,'' I told him, ''there's big money in this if you work at it. Play your cards right, and you can raise enough money to get a new rug with maybe a little left over for a steak sandwich. Let the word get around that you can arrange an overnight. Hint that they could have a chance to short-sheet Dusty Rhodes' bed or call Simon Leis to ask if he has Prince Albert in a can. Don't make specific promises.''

It is all perfectly legal. And everybody does it.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.