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Watchdogs Welcome McCain’s Steps Toward Greater Donor Transparency, Challenge Obama to Follow


Watchdogs Welcome McCain’s Steps Toward Greater Donor Transparency, Challenge Obama to Follow

Key disclosure still lacking for both candidates

WASHINGTON (July 11, 2008)-Responding today to a letter from eight government watchdog groups, John McCain’s presidential campaign agreed to provide more information about the presumptive Republican nominee’s top fundraisers and smaller donors. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, outlined several pro-transparency steps that the campaign will take immediately but stopped short of agreeing to the organizations’ primary request: that the campaign disclose the precise dollar amount it attributes to each of its major fundraisers, or “bundlers.” Barack Obama’s campaign has not yet responded to the watchdogs’ June 25 letter.

The coalition of the Campaign Finance Institute, the Center for Responsive Politics, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters of the United States, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG issued the following statement:

“Senator McCain seems to recognize that citizens deserve more information about two classes of contributors bringing in millions and millions of dollars for this election – bundlers and small donors. We hope that Senator Obama will agree to the same steps that Senator McCain has-or will go even further-so that the 2008 election is the most financially transparent in U.S history, not just the most expensive.”

Representing McCain, Davis agreed to take several important steps that will shine more light on the campaign’s fundraising, which has reportedly topped $140 million. Specifically, the McCain campaign has agreed to the following regarding its bundlers:

• McCain 2008 will disclose any bundler who has raised at least $50,000 for both the campaign and Victory 2008, the joint fundraising committee that splits its proceeds with the Republican National Committee and state parties. (The campaign previously had a $100,000 threshold. Obama’s campaign is already disclosing bundlers of $50,000 and above.)

• Provide the employer and occupation of every McCain bundler, in addition to the bundler’s name, city and state. (Obama currently discloses only bundlers’ names, and many of them are common-Lisa Davis, Mark Smith and Ben Rosen, for example.)

• Update the list of bundlers monthly on JohnMcCain.com. (After more than six months of little revision, the Obama campaign updated its bundler list Thursday in response to questions from the New York Times. The Times article states a revision from the McCain campaign is forthcoming, with updates “every couple months.”)

While these steps will improve the public’s understanding of the McCain campaign’s finances, the campaign is stopping short of telling the public precisely how much it attributes to each bundler. Davis’s letter says this “cannot be done in the midst of the campaign because it is changing on an individual basis almost daily – that is why we use broader categories.” The campaign indicates it will instead place each bundler in a tier: $50,000-$100,000, $100,000-$250,000 or $250,000 and over.

The coalition of watchdogs will respond to Davis by pointing out that the McCain campaign manages to report its precise finances to the Federal Election Commission every month, even as more money is coming in. Providing the public with a monthly snapshot of each bundler’s total, based on the campaign’s internal records, should not be any more difficult.

The coalition said:

“Senator McCain has taken an important step on these issues but hasn’t take that critical step of telling the American public exactly how much each bundler has raised. Since the presidential campaigns keep track of the amounts being bundled by individual fundraisers for their campaigns, it should be no problem for the presidential campaigns to provide this information that they already have. As stated in our June 25 letter, we believe that citizens are entitled to this information, and we strongly urge both Senator McCain and Senator Obama to provide it. Placing donors in tiers that stop at $250,000 fails to inform citizens about who the largest, and presumably most influential, bundlers are.”


The McCain campaign has also agreed to provide the following information on its smaller donors-those individuals who do not appear in FEC reports because their contributions total $200 or less. The campaign will:

• Improve the searchability of its online donor database by allowing searches by ZIP code and country, since Americans living abroad may contribute. Obama’s website does not appear to offer a similar database.

This would appear to be the first time that a major party’s nominee has provided the public access to a full database of his campaign contributors. The watchdogs applaud this effort to go beyond what the FEC requires but point out that the format of the data still makes analysis difficult. As the groups originally requested of both the McCain and Obama campaigns, an aggregation of donors by ZIP code and country would provide the public with more meaningful and comprehensive insight into the demographics of their donors.

The eight watchdog groups will send a response to McCain that seeks clarification on certain pledges and reiterates other requests. The groups will also write to Senator Obama again and inform him of the measures the McCain campaign has agreed to, and will challenge his campaign to either follow suit or take additional steps toward greater transparency.


To read the McCain campaign’s full response, go to https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/mccain_campaign_response_to_watchdogs.pdf

To read the watchdogs’ original letters to McCain and Obama, go to https://www.citizen.org/congress/campaign/issues/pub_fin/articles.cfm?ID=17838 and