By Ray O’Hanlon and Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The presentation of a peace prize to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was coming under scrutiny this week amid questions as to Rodham Clinton’s exact status at the event.
The first lady was presented with The Irish American Peace Prize Monday evening in the Georgetown home of former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Elizabeth Frawley Bagley.
The prize was in recognition of Mrs. Clinton’s considerable work on behalf of peace in Northern Ireland and the event was billed by the first lady’s office as an official White House event.
But Mrs. Clinton, who has declared her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in New York, also stood to benefit financially from the event, for which 100 invited guests were asked to pay at least $500 and as much as $5,000 each to attend.
An Associated Press report on the event stated that Mrs. Clinton had with her at least one White House staffer.
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Candidates for federal office, the report pointed out, are barred from using office staff for campaign-related events, including fund-raisers.
Monday’s prize-giving was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based group Irish American Democrats, which is backing Rodham Clinton’s senate bid as well as Vice President Al Gore’s election campaign.
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s senate campaign, Howard Wolfson, maintained that the fund-raiser was for the Irish Americans Democrats.
"We have no control over how they spend their money," Wolfson was quoted as saying in the AP report.
The head of Irish American Democrats, Stella O’Leary said that the fundrasing was not for Mrs. Clinton per se. Money collected at Monday’s event would go to the IAD’s Political Action Committee and used for a number of Democratic candidates including Mrs. Clinton, Vice President Gore and others. She said that Irish American Democrats were planning a specific fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton around St. Patrick’s Day.
"This tonight will benefit Hillary’s campaign,” Frawley Bagley told the guests at the event.
Against the backdrop of questions raised by the Irish American Democrats event, the Federal Election Commission said that it would look into any possible legal issues arising from it only if a specific complaint is filed.
Meanwhile, of the latest crisis over decommissioning that prompted the British government’s reinstatement of direct rule in Northern Ireland, Mrs. Clinton remained optimistic. She told guests at the dinner that the latest impasse was "a bump in the road but it’s going to be resolved.”
Mrs. Clinton has visited Northern Ireland five times and has been particularly involved with women’s groups working for peace there.