On Dec. 30, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards stood up at a “town hall” meeting in Boone, Iowa, and said: “To get real change, we need a president who will stand up against the big corporations and powerful interests who control Washington.”
That’s a bold claim. And his campaign Web site proclaims: “John Edwards is the ONLY candidate who has never taken a dime from PACs or Washington lobbyists ever.” In October, Sen. Edwards, labeling fellow candidate Hillary Clinton “the poster child for what’s wrong in American politics today,” began positioning himself as the candidate who could and would clean up campaign finance. He said he would expand public campaign financing and prohibit lobbyists from being campaign “bundlers.” But voters should measure actions against words.
Sen. Edwards has used 665 bundlers â€” far more than any other presidential candidate â€” en route to raising nearly $30 million from all sources by the end of the third quarter. Bundlers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are “fundraisers whose success at bringing in specific amounts of money is tracked by the candidate they are supporting.” (See detailed explanation of bundling.)
Remember the more than 900 bundlers used by President Bush? They were known as “Pioneers” (those who raised $100,000), “Rangers” ($200,000) and “SuperRangers” ($300,000). Sen. Edwards’ bundlers aren’t lobbyists (save for one under indictment in connection with ’04 campaign transgressions), but they’re still cleaning up for him.
Sen. Edwards may decry the seamier means of raising money, but he’s quite at home in the porcine underbelly of campaign finance. And he’s not alone. Bundling is a popular pastime with most of the candidates.
A Campaign Finance Institute and Public Citizen study, with data assistance from the Center for Responsive Politics and written by CFI’s Stephen Weissman and PC’s Taylor Lincoln, examined the use of bundlers by the current presidential candidates. (Here’s how their study was done; download the report as a PDF file.)
Barack Obama: Bundlers, 356; Lobbyist Bundlers, 9; raised $78,915,507.
Hillary Clinton: Bundlers, 322; Lobbyist Bundlers, 18; raised $78,507,181.
Rudy Giuliani: Bundlers, 218; Lobbyist Bundlers, 29; raised $44,559,299.
MItt Romney: Bundlers, 345; Lobbyist Bundlers, 13; raised $43,999,833.
John McCain: Bundlers, 442; Lobbyist Bundlers, 32; raised $30,306,621.
John Edwards: Bundlers, 665; Lobbyist Bundlers, 1; raised $29,935,179.
Bill Richardson: Bundlers, 14; Lobbyist Bundlers, 3; raised $18,458,722.
Fred Thompson: Bundlers, 113; Lobbyist Bundlers, 14; raised $12,717,993.
Chris Dodd: Bundlers, 12; Lobbyist Bundlers, 1; raised $8,761,581.
Ron Paul: Bundlers, 0; Lobbyist Bundlers, 0; raised $8,200,347.
Joe Biden: Bundlers, 13; Lobbyist Bundlers, 0; raised $6,172,060.
Mike Huckabee: Bundlers, 7; Lobbyist Bundlers, 0; raised $2,340,735.
Dennis Kucinich: Bundlers, 0; Lobbyist Bundlers, 0; raised $2,118,294.
Mike Gravel: Bundlers, 0; Lobbyist Bundlers, 0; raised $306,279.
(The dollars raised represent totals from all donations, not just bundled monies, reported to the Federal Election Commission at the end of the third quarter. Fourth quarter totals should be available within the next few weeks.)
The study also examined the occupations of more than 2,000 people identified as raising money by bundling for the 2008 presidential candidates.
It’s not news that lawyers have had significant financial influence in politics. But, as I noted last May, several industries share top billing in providing money to politicians. The occupations of leading campaign donors is not significantly different from the list of principal occupations of bundlers. (Note, too, that for some people, saying “no” to a bundler’s request for check or cash is risky business.)
According to Capital Eye:
Fifty-six percent of these bundlers work in law, financial industries or in real estate. Democrats and Republicans were equally successful in recruiting support from the considerable number of securities and investment industry fundraisers. Republicans held a significant edge in garnering assistance from those in the real estate and lobbying industries. Democrats received more support from lawyers and law firms, and from the TV, movies and music industry. [emphasis added; see story with pie charts]
Bundling is largely unregulated, and the Campaign Finance Institute/Public Citizen study recommends legislative remedy:
It is impossible to know how much money each industry has provided because, under the current regime of voluntary disclosure, none of the candidates are releasing precise information about how much each of their fundraisers are generating. Furthermore, John Edwards is the only candidate who is disclosing all of his fundraisers, although he is providing no information about how much each has raised. The campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and to a lesser extent, Rudy Giuliani, are disclosing some information about how much their bundlers have raised or promised to raise. The sporadic and incomplete reporting by campaigns of their designated fundraisers points to the need for legislation on this matter. [emphasis added]
When John Edwards â€” or any other presidential candidate â€” stands up before voters in a truck-stop diner somewhere in your state, tie askew or absent, and promises, “I’ll deal with the special interests,” he or she may, in fact, be already dealing with them.
Ignore the rhetoric; follow the money.