|Former first couple in hot water over taking gifts|
By Jay-Anne Casuga
In the political arena, lawmakers must be careful about the presents they take. Or they could find themselves surrounded by controversy just like former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
When the Clintons left the White House in January, they decided to take with them gifts they received during the last eight years – a move that drew heavy criticism concerning the former first couple’s ethics and taste. These gifts, which included china, furniture, electronics and art, totaled an estimated $190,000.
Last month, the Clintons announced that they would reimburse nearly half of that amount – the gifts received from 27 donors in 2000. Some of the gifts include $5,000 in china from director Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, and a $350 golf driver from actor Jack Nicholson.
The Washington Post reported that some see the payment of $86,000 as a bow to critics who questioned the Clintons on ethics and taste.
Sen. Clinton has also been under scrutiny. According to The New York Times and The Washington Post, public watchdog groups and GOP legislators labeled her acceptance of the presents just before joining the Senate as a last minute effort to "cash in" on the presidency.
In the U.S. Senate, members are prohibited from receiving gifts worth more than $50.
The former president, however, said in a statement that the payment is intended to prove that his and his wife’s actions were not improper.
"As have other presidents and their families before us, we received gifts over the course of our eight years in the White House and followed all the gift rules," Clinton said. "To eliminate even the slightest question, we are taking the step of paying for gifts given to us in 2000."
In the statement, Sen. Clinton said, "I believe the step we are taking today reaffirms that I am fully committed to being the best senator I can possibly be for the people of New York."
The controversy didn’t stop there.
The Post reported that some of the gifts the Clintons took – $28,000 worth of furnishings – were given to the National Park Service in 1993 as part of a White House redecoration project.
The Park Service has the legal authority to accept White House gifts. Personal gifts for the president and first lady, however, are accepted by a separate unit, the White House gifts office.
"If someone gave something of value to the White House as the White House and not to the president, that is a gift to the government of the United States," Donald C. Alexander, a former Internal Revenue Service commissioner under Richard M. Nixon and Gerald C. Ford, told The Post.
Jim Kennedy, a Clinton spokesman, argued that the gifts in question were on the White House gifts office list.
"From the perspective of the Clintons, all they know is that these were gifts to them," he told The Post.
However, the Clintons sent the furnishings back to the White House after the items were confirmed as government property.
"All of these items were considered gifts to us," Sen. Clinton told reporters in Rochester, N.Y. "That’s what the permanent record of the White House showed. … But if there is a different intent, we will certainly honor the intention of the donor."
The reason behind the items’ appearance on the president’s personal gifts list remains unexplained, The Post reported.