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Final Analysis of Bush-Kerry Fundraising Shows Heavy Reliance on Small Number of People Who Bundle Contributions

Dec. 2, 2004

Final Analysis of Bush-Kerry Fundraising Shows Heavy Reliance on Small Number of People Who Bundle Contributions

Special Interests With Large Stake in Federal Government Raised Enormous Sums for Bush, www.WhiteHouseForSale.org Analysis Shows

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The enormous sums bundled to boost the campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry accentuate the ability of well-financed special interests to dominate the financing of presidential campaigns and underscore the need for reform, according to an analysis Public Citizen released today.

Bush’s re-election campaign raised $262 million in the primary elections. At least 29 percent of the money Bush raised during the 2004 primaries – $76.5 million – came from only 548 bundlers, according to the analysis, available here.   (Public Citizen estimates that this number is closer to 40 percent, based on news reports quoting many bundlers as having far exceeded the minimum they pledged to raise.)

Kerry raised $248 million in the primaries, breaking all previous records for a Democrat. Nearly 17 percent of that – at least $41.5 million – came from 546 bundlers – although this number is likely closer to 21 percent.

“The record fundraising totals we saw this year show that people with money have growing influence in the presidential campaign system,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The voice of the average voter is being increasingly drowned out by well-financed interests who buy influence and purchase access to the White House. The system needs to be changed.”

Although the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law removed hundreds of millions of dollars of “soft money” from presidential and congressional campaigns, it raised individual contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000 per election, effectively doubling the influence of wealthy donors and accelerating the use of “bundling” – the practice of pooling a large number of contributions from individuals and political action committees (PACs).

In the Bush campaign, bundlers were dubbed Pioneers if they raised at least $100,000 for the campaign and Rangers if they raised at least $200,000. Bush benefited from 327 Pioneers and 221 Rangers, records show.

Super Rangers were those who raised at least $300,000 for the Republican National Committee; 75 of the 105 Super Rangers had first been Rangers, meaning they each raised at least $500,000 in this election, for a total of at least $37.5 million for the Bush presidential bid.

Kerry benefited from bundlers, too, calling those who raised at least $50,000 “Co-Chairs” and those who raised at least $100,000 “Vice Chairs.” Kerry had 266 Vice Chairs and 298 Co-Chairs, records show. Seventeen “trustees” raised at least $250,000 each for the Democratic National Committee.

Nine of 10 Bush bundlers are associated with corporate interests, and many have a stake in decisions made by the federal government – appointments, regulatory actions, contracts and legislative proposals. These bundlers seek to elect like-minded candidates and like to receive credit from the candidates for their fundraising efforts. Seventy-four of Bush Rangers, Pioneers and Super Rangers were lobbyists – representing 13 percent of all his bundlers. Collectively, they raised at least $11 million.

Bush bundlers came disproportionately from Texas (66), Florida (55), New York (46), California (44), Virginia (33) and Ohio (30), while Kerry bundlers came disproportionately from California (158), New York (105), Massachusetts (57) and Washington, D.C. (49).

Bush’s  leading bundlers came from the following industries: finance, insurance and real estate; lawyers and lobbyists; and energy and natural resources. Kerry’s leading bundlers came from the following industries: lawyers and lobbyists; finance, insurance and real estate; and communications and electronics.

“I fear that Bush’s exceptional reliance on about 550 money raisers makes him more accountable to his donors than average Americans,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

The strength of the bundling operations of Bush and Kerry show that new contribution limits and a strong bundling operation make private money look more attractive than the public funding system. And because candidates have not been provided with additional public funds to offset the higher contribution limit from private sources, this significantly reduces the attractiveness of the presidential public financing system and enhances the influence of private special interests in selecting our next president. Further, candidates who opt out of the public financing system can spend a lot more than candidates who play by the rules, giving a leg up to candidates who are best connected and limiting voter choices.

Two steps are needed, Public Citizen said. First, there should be more mandatory disclosure of the names, sources and amounts of all bundled fundraising above a minimum threshold. Second, sufficient public funds should be provided to offset the fundraising advantage that only a few candidates can achieve through bundling.