Bundle of Ploy

Brody Mullins at the Wall Street Journal labels the prevalent practice of bundling "the chief source of abuse in the American campaign-finance system" and when he does the math and talks to the people in the fundraising trenches, it's clear his charge has merit.

Bundling has become a more prevalent practice each election season, a phenomenon Mullins associates with the McCain-Feingold reforms which limited certain kinds of political giving and prompted the influence-seekers to find ways to play the money game under the new rules. Though the names on the checks may be more numerous, power is still concentrated among the few who can gather those checks. Witness the list of perks that presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani doles out to his biggest bundlers:


Among Republicans, Rudy Giuliani gives baseball-themed titles -- "Sluggers," "MVPs" -- to those who have pledged to raise $25,000 to $1 million for his campaign. He sends an eight-page brochure to prospective bundlers that lists the perks for successive fund-raising levels. Those in the lowest tier, "Pitcher," get a password to a members-only campaign Web site and are included in a monthly conference call with Mr. Giuliani and senior staffers, the brochure says. For $1 million, "Team Captains" can golf with Mr. Giuliani and join him for dinner and cigars. Mr. Giuliani's bundlers include New York Yankees vice president Abel Guerra, Texas Rangers owner Thomas Hicks Jr. and Wall Street financier Carl Icahn.

Hardly a campaign "of the people." You'd have to have your head pretty thoroughly wedged in the sand not to realize the conflict of interest the bundling system and its perks creates, and indeed many insiders acknowledge the problem:

 

Bundlers acknowledge that many people raise cash for campaigns to advance their own agendas -- from influencing public policy decisions to gaining ambassadorships or positions in a new administration. The measure of the bundler is the ability to bring in money, they say, now that campaigns and media alike use quarterly fund-raising results as a yardstick of success.

Some say this opens the door to abuse. "Whenever you have a lot of pressure to raise a lot of money there are going to be people who cut corners," says David Mason, a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission.

Indeed, the stories Mullins recounts of employers coercing donations from employees, or "reimbursing" them for contributions in order to circumvent individual donation limits just shows how high the stakes are for people who want to influence public policy to bring in the money. If there's really nothing for sale in Washington, DC how come so many people are lining up to buy?

Though the article praises initial first steps towards the disclosure of bundlers, the evidence amassed here points to the limited effectiveness of piecemeal reform proposals: donation limits, disclosure requirements, and strict policing of donor rolls won't fix the problem without an alternative to having to rely on high-dollar bundlers for donations. Full public financing of elections is clearly the answer.