Outside editorial: Sen. Clinton and rivals need to let public know their financiers' names

Posted: Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

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The number alone is breathtaking. As she launches her presidential fund-raising juggernaut, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is tasking her biggest financial backers to bring in $1 million or more for her campaign, The New York Times reported. Truth be told, for a fund-raiser with a fat Rolodex of rich friends, this isn't quite as daunting as it sounds. Having decided to opt out of the public financing system, not just for the primary campaign but for the general election as well, Ms. Clinton can bring in, or ask her fund-raisers to bring in, two checks for the hassle of one: Donors can give the maximum $2,300 for the primary and another $2,300 for the general election. Add in a spouse, and you're at $9,200 a pop. A mere 109 of those, and, voila, the $1 million bundle.

While the senator's not to blame for this state of affairs, the audacity of the $1 million target does evoke distasteful memories of the Lincoln Bedroom rake-it-all-in mentality of the Clinton presidential years. And the unwillingness of her campaign to commit to listing its big bundlers - as President Bush did during both of his campaigns - is appalling. A Clinton spokesman couldn't say what the campaign plans to do about disclosure. A campaign organized enough to task fund-raisers with bringing in $1 million ought to be organized enough to think in advance about revealing the identities of these, and lesser, financiers.

All this underscores how outmoded and inadequate the system of disclosure has become. Under current reporting rules, there is no way of determining that a bundler has brought in big bucks for a candidate; all that would show up on campaign filings would be the bundler's own contributions. Yet candidates are as indebted to the $1 million bundler as they are to the $1 million check writer.

President Bush, who perfected the system of organizing big bundlers during his two campaigns, with his $100,000 Pioneers and $200,000 Rangers, made it a practice to disclose the individuals on his Web site; most Democratic contenders during the 2004 campaign did likewise. That is an important standard for all candidates to meet during the 2008 campaign. The public is entitled to know the names of the bundlers and, at least within some range, the size of their bundles.

Among some of the leading Democratic and Republican candidates, the plans for disclosure are still unformed even as the bundlers are being recruited. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will provide that information on his campaign Web site; he's also not taking checks, or bundles, from lobbyists. Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., balked at giving out these details last time around; his campaign said that at this point it was committing only to disclose what's legally required. The campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hasn't yet decided what to do; this should be a no-brainer for a man who's been at the forefront of campaign finance reform.

Reporting this sort of critical information should not be left to the kindness of campaigns - it should be required. The Federal Election Commission has it within its power to write regulations mandating such disclosure; Congress could also write the requirement into law. In the age of the $1 million bundler, the status quo is intolerable.

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