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Obama's Bill to Expose Big Political Fundraisers

August 11, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(This post is the first in a series on legislation being sponsored in the Senate by presidential candidates Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ). Subscribe to our rss feed to get the rest.)

Bundlers are the ultimate campaign-finance loophole exploiters. By rounding up checks from their networks of friends and colleagues, bundlers skirt the legal individual contribution limit of $2,300 and give political candidates huge sums of bundled money, sometimes upwards of $2 million, and often secretly.

Until Congress passed its ethics bill last September, anybody, including registered lobbyists, could bundle together as much money as they wanted for a politician without having to disclose anything beyond their own $2,300 contribution. The ethics bill put in place a new rule requiring registered lobbyists to disclose their bundling activities. This partly closed a blind spot that was allowing corporations, individuals and special interest groups to secretly curry favor with the politicians that, if elected, would be making policy decisions affecting their interests.

Barack Obama’s bill, S.2030, would strengthen the bundling disclosure rule. Under his bill, everyone, not just registered lobbyists, would be required to disclose their bundling activities if they raise more than $15,000 within six months for a congressional candidate, and more than $50,000 in the two years leading up to election day for a presidential candidate. A full list including the names, address’, and employers of each donor in the bundle, including the bundler herself, would have to be made public in a manner that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable.

“We must have full transparency in campaigns to remove the perception that politicians are indebted to any one special interest at the expense of the public interest," Obama said upon introducing the bill. "The American people have a right to know who is behind the excessive money in politics, and deserve leadership that will achieve a truly open and honest government that works for them.”

Both Obama and McCain have voluntarily disclosed information about all the bundlers to their presidential campaigns, but both fall short of the stringent requirements – employer, amount, searchable, downloadable, etc. – that would be required by Obama’s bill (Obama’s bundlers can be viewed <a href=“http://answercenter.barackobama.com/cgi-bin/barackobama.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=130&p_created=1176309944&p_sid=SXIHS3bj&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_lva=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPTEmcF9zb3J0X2J5PSZwX2dyaWRzb3J0PSZwX3Jvd19jbnQ9NCw0JnBfcHJvZHM9JnBfY2F0cz0wJnBfcHY9JnBfY3Y9JnBfcGFnZT0xJnBfc2VhcmNoX3RleHQ9ZnVuZHJhaXNpbmc*&p_li=&p_topview=1>here; McCain’s ”http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/fundraisers.htm">here).

While the bill would increase disclosure requirements by adding non-lobbyist bundlers, it actually seems to decrease disclosure for one demographic: bundlers – lobbyists or otherwise – who gather less than $50,000 for a presidential candidate. Currently, under Congress’s ethics legislation, the disclosure threshold is $15,000 across the board. Obama’s bill explicitly increases that threshold to $50,000 for bundled contributions to a presidential candidate.

It’s a strange choice. In Obama’s press release on the bill, he stresses the need for presidential candidates to disclose their “largest bundlers,” which is, of course, important. But why exclude all the small and medium bundlers from disclosure? It seems to me that anyone who hands a candidate a lump sum greater than their legal limit as an individual should have some special disclosure requirements, spousal bundling not included. No?

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