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Revamped WhiteHouseForSale Web Site Tracks 2008 Presidential Candidates’ “Bundlers”

July 26, 2007

Revamped WhiteHouseForSale Web Site Tracks 2008 Presidential Candidates’ “Bundlers”

Site Provides Clearinghouse of Information About Those Powering Billion-Dollar White House Race

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today unveiled a Web site that provides an up-to-date listing of the 2008 presidential hopefuls’ “bundlers,” the super-fundraisers who are powering the billion-dollar race for the White House. The revitalized site, an expansion of Public Citizen’s similar effort during the 2004 campaign and the only such clearinghouse for the 2008 campaign, is at www.WhiteHouseForSale.org.

The site identifies nearly 1,900 individuals who are funneling money from other donors to the candidates. Of these, more than 230 were bundlers for President George W. Bush in at least one of his presidential campaigns, or for either Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004.

Aside from disclosing bundlers, the site includes a “Must Reads” feature providing the most salient articles relating to presidential fundraising, RSS feeds that notify subscribers of updates to candidates’ bundlers’ lists and a blog that articulates Public Citizen’s perspective on money-and-politics issues. The site also includes in-depth papers on the history of bundling, public funding of elections and campaign finance reform issues, and fact sheets chronicling the candidates’ disclosure practices and tracking which bundlers from past elections are working for current candidates.

The interactive research project, which Public Citizen will update frequently throughout the campaign, underscores the dire need for compulsory disclosure of bundlers’ identities and activities. The paucity of details disclosed by the candidates prevented Public Citizen from identifying the employers of nearly half the 2008 bundlers. More important, none of the campaigns is disclosing the amount of money raised by each bundler.

In fact, none of the candidates has even equaled the disclosure standard of the 2004 Bush campaign. By identifying which bundlers raised a threshold amount of at least $100,000 (nicknamed Pioneers) or at least $200,000 (called Rangers), Bush provided the public with some insight into the extent of each bundler’s role.

“It’s a sorry day when our presidential candidates can’t even match the transparency standards of Bush and Cheney,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The unseemly money chase shows that revitalizing public funding of elections is desperately needed.”

Bundlers are able to funnel much more money to campaigns than they are allowed to give personally by soliciting contributions from others. Campaigns keep track of how much money bundlers raise but rarely share such details with the public, except sometimes in broad ranges.

Candidates’ sophisticated fundraising techniques have afforded bundlers exalted status while rendering the presidential public financing system almost obsolete. Bundlers play a disproportionately large role in choosing the president and are positioned to reap the spoils if their candidate wins.

“Bundlers reduce the significance of individual voters,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Bundling shuts out regular Americans when it comes to choosing our president and leaves them to foot the bill when these super-fundraisers are repaid through tax breaks, corporate subsidies and regulatory loopholes.”

The type of bundling operations that all top-tier 2008 candidates are using was an innovation of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Looking back provides insight into how unsavory the practice can be.

  • Bundlers move to the front of the line for presidential jobs. More than 40 percent of Bush’s bundlers in his 2000 campaign eventually received government jobs, such as ambassadorships or cabinet positions, or received slots on influential transition committees. At least one also evidently influenced other appointments. While serving on the Energy Department transition team at the dawn of the Bush administration, Enron CEO and Bush Pioneer Ken Lay sent the White House a list of eight candidates for positions on the five-person Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Two were named.
  • Bundlers often seek – and receive – government favors. The 30 Ohioans who were anointed Rangers or Pioneers in 2004 received more than $1.2 billion in federal contracts for their companies and their clients between 2001 and 2005. At the very least, bundlers receiving federal contracts create the appearance of preferential treatment. Meanwhile, more than 60 of Bush’s bundlers in 2004 were federal lobbyists.
  • Bundling operations offer unsavory individuals entrée into White House aspirants’ operations. Aside from Lay, who was convicted of several felony counts shortly before his death, Bush’s 2000 and 2004 fundraising operations attracted a rogue’s gallery of white-collar criminals, including indicted government contractor and alleged Duke Cunningham co-conspirator Brent Wilkes; Thomas Noe, who was convicted of laundering campaign contributions to Bush as well as siphoning money from the Ohio workers’ compensation fund for personal use; and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Public Citizen is calling on Congress to complete the lobbying and ethics reform bill – which has passed both houses and is now being negotiated between the House and Senate – by preserving a strong requirement that lobbyists who bundle contributions disclose the amounts as a part of lobbying reports.

Public Citizen maintains that candidates should be required to disclose all bundlers’ identities, how much each raised and from whom each bundled contribution is obtained. Also, the presidential public financing system should be modernized to allow candidates to run competitive campaigns without stooping to unseemly fundraising practices.