DC's Hunter Gatherers

August 11, 2008

Given the recent slew of politicians being caught and investigated for accepting inappropriate donations and favors from special-interests, it is no surprise that the presidential candidates' fundraising strategies are getting a closer look. Large donations—and the motives behind them—are a murky issue, though hardly a partisan one; for every billionaire hedge-fund manager who raises more than $100,000 for Sen. Obama, there is an oil-trading company owner who bundles over $50,000 worth of contributions for Sen. McCain.

With bundled donations, special-interests can sidestep the contribution limits in campaign finance laws by allowing one individual to collect money from a variety of sources, thereby "bundling" the small donations into one large sum and delivering it to a candidate. It is no surprise that the collector in this scenario (or what the New York Times in an important editorial today aptly called the "hunter gatherer") can use this method of fundraising to their advantage, bringing in the usual suspects of special access and favors to the world of campaign finance. By controlling the contributions of many different donors, the bundler has more power (and a larger sum of money) than if he or she donated alone.

One central concern with bundling is that by circumventing the contribution limits that are meant to check the influence a wealthy donor can have over a campaign, a bundler who controls the purse-strings of many donors has the same level of undue influence as someone who can donate unlimited campaign cash. Bundlers are winning out with the same type of unwarranted power and influence that contribution limits were originally meant to restrain, all while technically not breaking any laws.

When thinking about ways to repair the presidential campaign finance system, (a pledge that has been made by both McCain and Obama), it is clear that the ramifications of bundling both there and in Congressional campaigns should be seriously considered. Requiring full disclosure of bundling activity above a certain threshold is one important step that should be considered in the larger process (and ultimate goal) of repairing the damage and self-interested agendas that currently afflict campaigns.