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By FROM K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 7.10.00
Washington, Oct. 7 :    Washington, Oct. 7:  The biggest dinner in the history of White House for a foreign visitor has left a bad taste in the mouth: not for the chief guest, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but for his hosts, President Bill Clinton and his wife. Three weeks after 700 guests turned up on the lawns of White House to break bread with Vajpayee, the controversy surrounding the guest list is refusing to go away. With Hillary Clinton's Senate bid from New York in its final stages, her role as co-host at the Vajpayee dinner is repeatedly coming under the microscope. The difficulty for the President and the First Lady in defending the dinner stems not from its size or its extravagance, but from the fact that almost one out of every six guests had virtually no connection with India. Of the 700 invitees to the dinner, just over 50 were from the Indian delegation that accompanied Vajpayee. According to investigative reports in the US media, of the remaining 646 guests, more than 100 had a common bond. All of them had contributed to the First Lady's election campaign. Four of them had made donations in excess of $20,000 while eight had written out cheques for over $10,000. Seventeen paid more than $5,000, but less than $10,000. America's campaign fund-raising laws permit individual contributions per candidate of up to $2,000, but there is no limit on funding campaign efforts on behalf of the candidate, such as a TV advertisement sponsored as "friends of Hillary" or on behalf of a non-profit organisation supporting her. Such contributions, known as "soft money", have become the First Lady's nemesis in her Senate campaign. At last week's debate between presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush, the Republican nominee brought up the issue of access to the Clinton White House. At issue during the debate was not the Vajpayee dinner, but a row about how the Clintons allowed major campaign contributors to sleep overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom of White House. Under sustained media pressure, White House released a few days ago a list of 361 overnight guests. It turns out that one out of four of the overnight guests had contributed to the First Lady's election bid. Excluded from the list were 43 others because they were friends of Chelsea, the First Couple's daughter. The only Indian among the 361 presidential guests to have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom was Vinod Gupta, who owns an Internet-based marketing company in Nebraska. Gupta contributed $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and helped raise an equal amount through a $1,000-per-plate dinner for Hillary at his home. Gupta was also an invitee for the Vajpayee dinner.