For hire: a night between the presidential sheets

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On the eve of the Democratic Party convention, at which he is likely to be condemned for his welfare cuts, President Bill Clinton has been accused of turning the White House into a hotel for wealthy campaign contributors.

As both reward and incentive for their largess, corporate bosses and Hollywood celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have been given free overnight stays in the Lincoln Room of the White House, where they sleep in the four-poster bed once used by Mr Clinton's illustrious predecessor.

The Centre for Public Integrity (CPI), a Washington pressure group, has a list of at least 75 individuals who have contributed or raised money for the Democratic Party since 1993, and have all spent the night in the White House as guests of the president. The head of the CPI, Charles Lewis, a well-known Washington campaigner for cleaner government, said the evidence demonstrated "a disturbing pattern of using public property ... to pander to the president's patrons".

Among these are a number of corporate bosses and Hollywood celebrities, says the CPI document, titled "Fat Cat Hotel". Heading the six-figure donors is Lew Wasserman, former chairman of MCA Inc, a vast entertainment conglomerate. Mr Wasserman has given Mr Clinton and the Democratic Party $459,273 (pounds 296,000) since 1991, and contributed an unspecified amount to the president's Legal Expense Trust, a body set up to help pay his lawyers' bills incurred by the Whitewater affair and the pending sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones.

Second in the list is Steven Grossman, president both of the Massachusetts Envelope Company and the hugely influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a body which has helped ensure that Mr Clinton's Middle East policy remains uncompromisngly committed to Israel. Mr Grossman has donated $437,240 to the Clinton cause.

Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, partners in a Hollywood production company called DreamWorks, have both enjoyed nights at the White House, having between them donated more than $600,000 to the president's campaigns. They also hosted a dinner in April last year which raised $2m for the Democratic Party.

Tom Hanks clinched his night at the White House on the strength of only $5,250 from his own pocket, but he did call in more than $1m at a fundraiser he hosted in Los Angeles last year. White House guests Barbra Streisand, Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss have also contributed money and used their fame to entice multi-million dollar donations from affluent celebrity- seekers.

When the CPI asked the White House whether Mr Clinton or the Democratic Party had ever arranged for contributors to spend the night at the presidential mansion, they were told: "This has become an urban myth, like the alligators in the sewers of New York. It is just not true."

These high-class perks for Mr Clinton's benefactors are unlikely to amuse all of the delegates at the Democratic convention, which starts tomorrow in Chicago. Many prominent Democrats, in and out of Congress, have denounced as treachery Mr Clinton's decision last week to sign a Republican Bill that drastically cuts welfare payments to the poor. In his attempts to paper over the cracks caused by an issue as divisive in Democrat ranks as abortion is among Republicans, Mr Clinton is expected to note that he had only made good on a promise made during the 1992 presidential campaign that he would "end welfare as we know it".

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