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McAuliffe breaks the mold of Washington fund raisers--and not just because of the fund-raising records he has shattered. For one thing, he is not as reserved and staid as presidential moneymen tend to be. He once wrestled an alligator for a $15,000 contribution. He invites reporters, including this one, to watch him do his thing. And he brags about his fund-raising prowess. Deposed by G.O.P. investigators during the Senate's 1997 campaign-finance probe, he called himself "the guy who jumps out of planes and falls through burning buildings" for political cash.
McAuliffe is the rare moneyman who has linked his personal life with his President. Not since Hollywood mogul Arthur Krim roamed the Lyndon Baines Johnson White House has one fund raiser done so much for one political family. He has raised more than $300 million for Clinton causes, including the presidential library ($75 million), Clinton's legal bills ($8 million), Hillary's Senate campaign ($5 million) and the President's millennium celebration ($17 million). When no one else came through to help the First Family buy a house in New York's Westchester County, McAuliffe interrupted a golf game with Clinton to arrange the $1.35 million guarantee. The Clintons dropped the idea and pursued a conventional mortgage after being criticized for accepting such a large gift.
A close friendship has grown between McAuliffe and Clinton, two men who share a passion for food, storytelling, golf, three-dimensional Scrabble and ironic humor. When the 1994 G.O.P. takeover of Congress seemed to doom Clinton's hope for a second term, McAuliffe came to the rescue as finance chair of the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, raising cash early to stave off challenges by Democratic rivals. Since then, the President has turned increasingly to McAuliffe as a trusted adviser as well as playmate, spending more time with McAuliffe than with anyone other than his wife and top aides. He was one of three people Clinton called after falsely testifying in the Paula Jones deposition in January 1998. McAuliffe kept up the President's spirits and immediately forgave Clinton after his public confession scattered other friends.
The friendship has turned McAuliffe into the man to see in Washington, which explains the procession of lobbyists and diplomat-wannabes who stop by his reserved tables at two favorite luncheon haunts, the Palm and the Oval Room. Like every other presidential fund raiser, he has a say in political appointments. For ambassadorial jobs, Clinton has been known to give aides a list of candidates and ask, "What does Terry think?" McAuliffe is a centrist who claims he never takes up "issues" with the President. But Democratic sources say he can take credit for about 25 diplomatic postings from Madrid to Malta to the Dominican Republic.