By CHRIS MONDICS Herald Washington Bureau

September 20, 1997

Plantation businessman R. Warren Meddoff testified Friday that former White House aide Harold Ickes asked him for $1.5 million in campaign contributions last October and then asked him to shred a record of the request.

Meddoff, testifying before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said that at a Democratic fund-raiser in Coral Gables on Oct. 22, he told President Clinton about a business associate's offer to donate $5 million to the president's campaign. Clinton told him that someone would follow up, Meddoff said.

Soon afterward, Meddoff said, Ickes called him from Air Force One, saying he had an urgent need for $1.5 million within 24 hours. Meddoff said Ickes directed him to contribute to several tax-exempt, Democratic-leaning groups. Ickes then faxed Meddoff a memo that specified the names and amounts of the donations. That led to another phone call.

``He [Ickes] called me and very nicely said, `I sent you that fax in error; I shouldn't have sent it. Would you please shred it?' '' Meddoff testified. ``We had a brief discussion regarding even where the shredding machine was located within my office. And that was the last time I spoke to Mr. Ickes.''

Meddoff did not destroy the document, which was produced at the committee's hearing Friday.

By presenting testimony that Ickes allegedly sought to have campaign documents shredded, Republicans are trying to show that the White House knew it was engaging in questionable practices during last year's campaign.

Federal law bars government employees from soliciting campaign contributions on government property, although there is debate on when those rules apply. The law also restricts when political campaigns can coordinate their activities and spending with outside groups.

While acknowledging that Ickes sent the memo, Democrats on the committee, as well as the White House, on Friday denied that Ickes ever instructed Meddoff to destroy documents. In an earlier deposition to the committee, Ickes denied telling Meddoff to shred the fax.

The controversy started when the onetime Broward auto exporter and Davie town council candidate attended a $1,500-a-plate Coral Gables fund-raiser for Clinton, intending to urge the president to resume aid flights to Cuba. The flights had been banned since Cuba shot down two private U.S. planes in March.

The offer of $5 million came from William R. Morgan, a Texas investor who wanted the contribution to be tax-deductible.

The flights resumed. But the donation was never made: Morgan withdrew the offer because he did not support the aims of all the organizations on Ickes' list. They included Defeat 209, a California organization whose goal was to defeat a ballot initiative banning affirmative action in the state.

Meddoff at the time worked as an export manager for Bukkehave Inc. in Hollywood, a company that provides heavy-duty vehicles to relief efforts worldwide. He was fired in July, for reasons ``totally unrelated to this issue,'' Bukkehave attorney Richard Bright said Friday.

Bright would not say what the reasons were, saying that Meddoff is a private individual. ``We don't want to say what it was and have him come back and sue us,'' Bright said.

Credibility attacked

At the hearing Friday, committee Democrats vigorously attacked Meddoff's credibility.

They produced evidence that the man on whose behalf Meddoff sought to make contributions had few assets, had been sued for failing to pay bills, and had two tax liens filed against him. The Democrats said the offer of a contribution was rejected after Democratic officials started looking into his background.

``I for one will not have you come before this committee and make claims against people I've known much of my life, people who have been trusted in leadership of the United States of America, considering aspects of your credibility `` said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

`Soft money' under fire

In a related development, the committee announced that next week it would move beyond its probe of Democratic fund-raising improprieties and begin looking at the explosive growth of unregulated ``soft money'' in political campaigns.

For years, federal law has strictly limited contributions made directly to candidates. But a series of court decisions have opened the door to millions of dollars in unrestricted spending of soft money by special interests on behalf of candidates.

Critics of the campaign-finance system say the soft money loophole has greatly increased the clout of well-heeled special interests on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

Herald staff writer Christina A. Samuels contributed to this report.

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