Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Conason Originally Published: December, 2000

Paula Jones | 20 Years Ago This Month

Lingering doubts about Paula’s purity may have discouraged contributions to her cause from the Bible Belt. But in 1998 a furious John Whitehead discovered another more likely reason behind the failure of his organization’s direct-mail prospecting: The Rutherford Institute’s letters had been competing with a mail campaign by Bruce W. Eberle, a top conservative fundraiser hired by the Joneses to raise funds simultaneously for the Paula Jones Legal Fund. Particularly galling to Whitehead was the fact that the contract between Eberle and the Legal Fund had been signed in November 1997, only weeks after Rutherford took on the financial burden of the Jones case. Feeling swindled, Whitehead threatened to sue Jones and the Legal Fund, and publicly accused both of ripping off unsuspecting donors.

“It really pissed Rutherford off,” says Jones. “It really made [Whitehead] mad. And we were just trying to get more money. The money was going to go to all of the same [purpose] any way, supposedly. I know ours would….

I think [Whitehead] got mad because the money wasn’t coming there, to where he could take control of [it] and do with it, I guess, what he wanted to do with it.”

A spokesman for the Ruther ford Institute and Whitehead calls Jones’s comments “puzzling” because “they contradict both her own earlier statements and the well-publicized facts about her case.” The Rutherford spokesman noted that his organization “took a financial loss on the Jones case, in large part because Paula was raising money for her own “defense fund,’” and also quoted a letter she wrote to Whitehead, after the case was settled in late 1998. In the correspondence she thanks him “from the bottom of my heart” for “all your Institute has done for me.”

Originally under the stewardship of Cindy Hays, a Republican fundraiser and close friend of Gil Davis, the Paula Jones Legal Fund eventually caused considerable grief to both Paula and Steve Jones.

They were accused of misusing its proceeds for frivolous personal expenses. An IRS audit that covered four years of the couple’s tax returns found them liable for thousands of dollars in expenditures that they had believed were deductible. “I’m having to pay back the I RS for what I was told were legitimate expenses,” says Jones. “Cindy Hays said that I could spend for clothing, for makeup or hair, whenever I went to public appearances… hotel expenses, airfare, stuff like that. Well, now I’m having to pay all that back. It’s around $20,000 with interest.”

The fund’s activities also came under intense scrutiny from Virginia authorities. “I’ve been sued by the state of Virginia,” says Jones, “because they said that I did not solicit money correctly or something.” Jones doesn’t understand why no other state has complained about the Legal Fund, and blames Hays for the problems in Virginia. “There were five different violations or something…. So they of course came after me, when I had nothing really to do with it… I didn’t have anything really to do with legal fundraising.”

Bruce Eberle’s mysterious entry into the case remains intriguing but difficult to assess. Typically, Jones says that she has little or no recollection of the circumstances under which Eberle suddenly volunteered to raise money for her. “I’m not so sure how we got connected,” she replies with a sigh. “Do you know? Can you tell me?”

Despite an agreement with Penthouse to disclose the fund’s complete records, her present lawyers have provided only a few documents of any interest (including a brochure and testimonial letters promoting the Eberle firm). Those documents do suggest that the Jones camp had ties to organizations and individuals connected with Richard Mellon Scaife, the notorious Clinton-hating Pittsburgh billionaire.

For example, the Legal Fund file includes two photocopied checks sent in October and November 1995 from the Fund for Living American Government, an obscure Washington, D.C., “charitable” group run by a Scaife attorney named William J. Lehrfeld. The checks, totaling $50,000, were made out to Joe Cammarata and were accompanied by a letter from Lehrfeld reminding the Jones attorney that he had signed an agreement to provide FLAG with a “suitable accounting of fees, expenses and costs… out of the grant funds… to assure and confirm the charitability of this grant.”

In the same file is a letter from the Southeastern Legal Foundation to Bruce Eberle, praising the fundraiser’s work on behalf of the conservative legal group and its star client, former FBI agent Gary Aldrich. Aldrich had written a best-selling (and largely fictional) book about his service in the Clinton White House. His resulting legal difficulties were handled by Southeastern-the single largest contributor to which is a foundation controlled by Scaife.

These are tantalizing hints of the forces behind the Jones lawsuit, but it is clear that the plaintiff herself has only the vaguest notion about such matters. “I didn’t even know what a conservative or a liberal was,” she says, giggling. “Somebody had to explain it to me.”

The Eberle firm’s intervention certainly helped to keep the case going after the settlement was rejected and Jones’s original lawyers quit. The plaintiff herself confirms that around the same time she declined Clinton’s offer, Eberle promised to raise more than $300,000. According to news reports, he also made an extraordinary down payment of $100,000 to the Legal Fund-before a single fundraising letter had been mailed.

(A copy of the contract between the direct-mail firm and Jones shows that Eberle did make a “cash advance” to her legal fund within ten days after the deal was signed, but the amount could not be verified because Jones’s current attorneys redacted all financial figures, citing a prior confidentiality agreement with Eberle.)

All of that money is long gone, and Paula Jones still has to pay the $20,000-plus to the IRS. On top of that, her legal expenses are mounting as she fights off lawsuits in Virginia and Colorado related to the Legal Fund. But regardless of the cost, she says she doesn’t regret suing the president. “I’m glad it’s over with, that’s for sure,” she says, “and I wish it could have been over with a lot sooner. I’m not looking for fame or fortune or anything like that.”

By the way, should you feel particularly ambitious, and have twenty bucks lying around, you can visualize Paula Jones much more thoroughly in the PenthouseGold members’ section.

The story in the Ray Stevens classic song "Along Came Jones" could well fit the real person Paula Jones in some ways. Bill Clinton might not be thrilled, though.

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