Ronald O. Perelman is known mainly for his wealth. He controls a corporate empire worth more than $8 billion. But on Jan. 22, the New York billionaire found himself drawn into the sex scandal swirling about President Clinton. Perelman's crown jewel, Revlon Inc., announced it had rescinded a job offer it made to ex-White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. This was the second known time Perelman has obliged Presidential pal Vernon E. Jordan Jr. when he sought jobs for people who might be witnesses in legal actions against Clinton. Jordan got Webster Hubbell a Perelman job as well in 1994. Now, Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr wants to know: Why is Perelman doing big favors for the White House?
Certainly, the press-shy Perelman won't say. And Jordan denies he was trying to buy Lewinsky's silence. But these events have beamed a spotlight on Perelman's widespread and eclectic political dealings. A closer look at his political dance card shows that Perelman is far from a Washington neophyte. As a major campaign contributor, in the 1995-96 cycle, he was the 14th largest giver overall, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, putting him in the same league as Pepsico and Mobil Corp. in donations to the Democratic and Republican parties. He has a knack for putting politically connected people on the boards--and payrolls--of his companies. And anchored by powerful Texas law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, an array of lobbyists in Washington protect the interests of his companies. "Ron is a very sophisticated political operator," says one knowledgeable source. "Ron felt people like Clinton and Dole could help him out."
SINGLE ROOM. Perelman is not known as a Washington insider. One colleague describes him as a political "agnostic": Indeed, he's a registered independent. Perelman is not a Friend of Bill. He attended just one White House state dinner, and the only obvious perk is that Clinton put him on the board of the Kennedy Center in 1995. One Democrat who attended the White House dinner with Perelman and his wife, Patricia M. Duff, describes him as "a very reluctant participant. He was never a part of that world. He seemed a little out of it." Indeed, when Duff stayed over in the Lincoln Bedroom, Perelman did not.
That hasn't stopped him from giving heavily to both parties, depending on who is occupying the White House or in the majority on the Hill. In the last three election cycles, Perelman's donations totaled $2 million. In 1995, he was the largest contributor to future GOP Presidential candidate Bob Dole's Better America Foundation, with a $250,000 gift. Perelman's top lieutenant, Howard Gittis, was a vice-chairman of Dole's reelection committee. At least one Perelman investment banker was pressed to contribute to Dole.
After Perelman married Duff, a Democratic fund-raiser, in late 1994, his giving became more skewed toward the Democrats. In 1996 alone, he gave more than $600,000 to Democratic candidates--most of which went to the Democratic National Committee--and only $150,000 to Republicans. Perelman even lent his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., to the DNC for a 1995 Clinton fund-raiser co-hosted by Duff and attended by Clinton. Perelman and Duff are now divorcing, and in the first half of 1997, he gave equally to both parties.
Perelman's connection to the White House is Jordan, the Presidential pal who went on the Revlon board soon after Perelman bought Revlon in 1986. Jordan allegedly called Perelman directly to arrange Lewinsky's job offer. A Perelman spokesman declined comment, and Jordan's lawyer didn't return phone calls. Jordan inherited the Perelman relationship from his Akin Gump colleague, Robert Strauss. The Democratic kingpin was involved in Perelman's biggest political bonanza, his highly lucrative 1988 purchase of First Texas Gibraltar from the government. Perelman has also employed political exiles Nancy Reagan and Pierre Rinfret, the 1990 GOP candidate for New York governor, as Revlon directors.
David N. Dinkins, the former Democratic mayor of New York, sits on the board of a Revlon subsidiary, Cosmetic Center, and is a Revlon consultant. His office in the Revlon building is next to the office of former New York mayoral candidate Andrew Stein, another Perelman consultant. William Lynch, a Dinkins lieutenant who is currently a DNC vice-chairman, is a Revlon vice-president for government relations, as is former congressman and Philadelphia Mayor William Green. Lynch and Dinkins have helped enhance Revlon's presence in South Africa, where they have political ties.
LOBBY CROWD. At Consolidated Cigar Corp., 38% owned by Perelman, the nephew of Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy, R.Sargent Shriver III, is a board member. John A. Moran, a major Dole fund-raiser and chairman of Houston-based Rutherford-Moran Oil Corp., is a board member of Wichita-based Coleman Co., 80% owned by Perelman.
Perelman also employs some of Washington's finest lobbying talent. Records on file with Congress show that he shelled out close to $250,000 in 1997's first half to pay Green as well as seven Washington law firms and lobbying boutiques. They have sought to preserve lucrative tax credits for two cigar factories in Puerto Rico. Law firms Davis Polk & Wardwell and Akin Gump work on behalf of CalFed Bancorp, a California thrift in which Perelman owns a majority stake. Their goal is to make sure financial-services reform legislation doesn't hurt the thrift's plans to go public this year.
Now, it's up to Starr to determine exactly what Jordan may have told Perelman about Lewinsky or Hubbell. So far, the billionaire has not received a subpoena, say sources close to the company. But with Starr's case just getting going, Perelman may find out just how much his political connections are worth.