July 26, 2007
Campaign Bundlers Exposed by Revitalized Public Citizen Web Resource
Statement of Laura MacCleery,Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division
We are all running in reverse when it comes to the role of big money donors in the 2008 presidential campaign. While bundlers are becoming more ubiquitous in campaigns, public information about donors and their contributions grows ever more elusive.
In 2004, George Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean, in a voluntary but standard practice, disclosed bundlers’ names and provided basic data about how much money each raised, announcing when they exceeded thresholds such as $50,000 or $100,000.
In the current election, every major contender for the Democratic or Republican nomination is using bundlers. Yet the campaigns are being far less transparent about the bundlers than the 2004 field was. Anyone willing to be less transparent than George Bush should realize this is a problem.
Only one candidate, Barack Obama, has provided any insight into how much his bundlers have raised, and only one candidate – also Obama – currently publishes bundlers’ names on a readily accessible part of the campaign Web site. But even Obama comes up short because he does not identify bundlers’ employers or states of residence – information needed, for example, to cross-check the data with lobbying records or connect records to previous bundling activity.
Other top-tier candidates satisfied their campaign promises to disclose bundlers by publishing names on “hidden” Web pages – pages to which no links apparently exist – or by listing them on state-level campaign Web pages that are nightmarish to navigate. Because they are using their own criteria to define who is a bundler, the candidates generally are not indicating whether a bundler collected a million dollars for them or merely offered to help out at a cocktail party.
The outcome is clear: The candidates are using bundlers to get around campaign finance laws meant to limit their reliance on single donors. Bundling operations predictably become magnets for lobbyists and other influence-peddlers. Ken Lay and Jack Abramoff did not become Pioneers for George Bush out of the goodness of their hearts.
Voters should make it clear that they are sick of the caprice of voluntary transparency agreements and broken promises. What we need are legal changes that will require better disclosure.
The lobbying and ethics legislation pending in Congress must at a minimum include measures to improve disclosure of bundling activity by lobbyists. And in the presidential race, candidates should at least be required to fully identify bundlers and disclose how much money each bundler raises and from whom.
But more change is in order. The money primary occurring in the 2008 race for the White House is obscene. It forces the best of candidates to take time from genuine campaigning and other official duties to grovel before big donors in ways that would test the integrity of the best of us.
This will change only when we repair the presidential public finance system – a system that worked well for two decades – so that future White House hopefuls can concentrate on winning over millions of voters, and not merely a handful of hedge fund managers and corporate tycoons. Must-pass bipartisan legislation has been proposed in Congress to accomplish this critical goal by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Representative Marty Meehan of Massachusetts. The current presidential candidates should endorse it and Congress should move on it quickly.
We also need to remove the taint of special-interest money from our congressional races with a voluntary system of public funding for elections. A bill for public funding of congressional elections, S. 1285, was introduced this past spring by Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and would ameliorate the corrosive and corrupting influence of campaign cash.
We support this bill and other measures that would return control of elections to voters and reduce the disproportionate influence of large money donors on campaigns.
Visit www.WhiteHouseForSale for an up-to-date listing of the 2008 presidential hopefuls’ “bundlers” – the super-fundraisers who are fueling the billion-dollar race for the White House.