Bill's Dave Problem

Once a Friend of Bill, always a Friend of Bill. Just ask David Watkins, a lifelong pal of President Clinton's from Hope, Ark. A senior campaign finance official in the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, Watkins lost his high-ranking White House job last year for using a Presidential helicopter to get him to a golf outing. But that hasn't stopped Clinton's campaign committee from continuing to pay Watkins monthly installments that totaled at least $30,000 during the past year.

Watkins, the former head of the White House Office of Management & Administration, was dumped in May, 1994, after he flew aboard a Presidential chopper to a Maryland country club. Already smarting from previous episodes of Arkansas cronyism on the part of Clinton aides, the White House asked Watkins to repay $13,679 for the use of the aircraft. Watkins protested, but did so in June, 1994, the White House says.

CONSULTING FEES. By July, 1994, Watkins was back on the payroll of Clinton's still-operating 1992 campaign committee, collecting consulting fees, according to Clinton's Federal Election Commission filings. After an initial batch of checks totaling $9,000, the Clinton for President Committee since September, 1994, has sent $3,000 monthly checks to the Watkins Group, an inactive consulting firm based in Little Rock, records show. Watkins didn't return calls seeking comment. Since late last year, he has worked as vice-president of corporate communications for Carlsbad (Calif.) golf-club maker Callaway Golf Co.

Lyn Utrecht, Clinton campaign counsel, says that Watkins was hired last summer to help staffers respond to questions from the FEC. She says Watkins was paid a monthly fee to prepare an affidavit about bonuses paid to workers and to help respond to other FEC questions about campaign payments. In the end, the FEC ordered the Clinton campaign to refund $1.4 million to the Treasury Dept. because of failure to justify or document an array of expenses. The payments to Watkins stopped as of this month, Utrecht says, now that the FEC audits are complete.

In the course of the audit, however, the FEC raised a red flag about one unusual "consulting" payment. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the money was part of a $37,500 payment made by the Clinton campaign to settle sexual harassment charges brought against Watkins by a female accountant who worked for the campaign. The FEC ordered the campaign to repay $9,675--the portion provided by federal matching funds--used in the settlement payment. "There was no finding of wrongdoing or violation," Utrecht insists. But she refused to discuss details, saying they come under a confidentiality agreement. The White House referred queries to Utrecht.

Now, Republicans on Capitol Hill have questions. By fall, the House Government Reform & Oversight Committee plans to query Watkins about payments he received from the campaign as part of its probe of "Travelgate," a 1993 flap in which Watkins presided over mass firings of White House travel-office workers. "After being fired from the White House, for Watkins to go on the campaign's payroll raises some serious questions," says the panel's chairman, William F. Clinger Jr. (R-Pa.).

One thing about coming from a place called Hope. Friendship still counts.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.