Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Reining in the campaign bundlers

Posted by David Kassel on December 13, 2007

We all know by now that the life-blood of government has become special interest money, which increasingly underpins our entire electoral process.

Public Citizen’s Watchdog blog reports that in 2008, winning the presidency is going to cost $1 billion between the two major-party candidates.  It’s the lobbyists and fundraisers who have become the conduits of that wealth between the special interests and the politicians, who, if and when they win office, aren’t inclined to forget who got them there.

But while we all know this is the case, we lack the will to change the system.  The fitful series of campaign reform efforts since the 1970s seems to have brought along loopholes with every new rule.  Thus, campaign finance reform may have stemmed the tide of this history a bit, but the tide has still been relentless. 

One of these loopholes has led to the emergence of “bundlers,” who increasingly operate on behalf of businesses and wealthy special interest groups.   While individuals are legally limited to spending $2,300 on a particular candidate, bundlers can round up contributions from numerous individuals from a single business or industry. 

Currently, bundlers have to disclose their roles only if they personally hand over these checks to the campaigns, according to Public Citizen.  The campaigns get around this rule by employing a tracking system that enables the bundlers to cover their tracks. Campaigns give bundlers a tracking number, which the bundler asks the contributors to write on their checks.  This allows the campaigns to know who the bundler is, but keeps the public in the dark as to the bundler’s identity.

Here’s the quid pro quo.  Public Citizen found that one out of every four elite fundraisers to the Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004 received some form of governmental appointment, including ambassadorships and cabinet posts. 

How far into the body politic have the bundlers buried themselves?  Public Citzen’s website reports that top tier candidates for president have used them to raise hundreds of millions of dollars:

Hillary Clinton raised $88.5 million from 320 bundlers

Barack Obama: $78.9 million from 354 bundlers

Rudy Giuliani: $46.5 million from 218 bundlers

Mitt Romney: $44 million from 346 bundlers

John McCain: $31.4 million from 442 bundlers 

John Edwards:  $29.9 million from 666 bundlers

 So, what can be done?  It doesn’t appear that imposing new rules is going to work.  The only viable solution that I can see is to work toward more reliance on public financing of campaigns.

The proposed Presidential Funding Act of 2007 appears to go in the right direction.  Public Citizen reports that it would overhaul the current public financing system for presidential campaigns by increasing spending ceilings for publicly funded candidates.  Publicly funded candidates receive federal campaign funding in exchange for giving up special interest contributions. 

The bill would also raise the voluntary tax check-off system for public campaign financing from $3 to $10 per individual and would provide a 4-to-1 match of public funds to private donations of $200 or less.  The measure also does propose some additional rules, including requiring presidential campaigns to disclose all of their fundraising bundlers (this would compliment the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2007, S. 1 and H.R. 2316, which is currently pending in Congress), and prohibiting national parties from using unregulated special interest money to pay for their national party nominating conventions.

At the state level, public financing needs to be enhanced as well.  The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray have raised more than $1.4 million in campaign contributions in the past year, much of it from special interest groups regulated by government.  Murray, a Democrat, has turned to Robert M. Platt, a State House lobbyist and Republic fundraiser who happens to be supporting Romney’s presidential campaign this year.

Although Massachusetts law restricts individual donors to a limit of $500 to statewide candidates, bundling appears to be a way of getting around that limit, just as it is at the federal level. 

The federal public funding legislation, which has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, has been co-sponsored by Clinton, Obama, and Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden.  One would hope that the major Republican presidential contenders are in favor of it as well.  


2 Responses to “Reining in the campaign bundlers”

  1. […] Aron Goldman wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptPlatt, a State House lobbyist and Republic fundraiser who happens to be supporting Romney’s presidential campaign this year. Although Massachusetts law restricts individual donors to a limit of $500 to statewide candidates, … Read the rest of this great post here […]

  2. […] Here’s one. […]

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