Open All Bundles

Posted February 6, 2007 at 6:31pm

It looks as though House Democrats, under pressure from the media and reform groups, will require — as the Senate did — disclosure of campaign contribution “bundling” as part of their lobbying reform bill. If that gets done, it’s good, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Roll Call’s Tory Newmyer first reported last week that there was hesitation among House leaders about adopting the Senate bundling provision and that efforts were under way by lobbyists to torpedo the provision. That led to outraged editorials in The New York Times and The Washington Post and agitation by reform groups.

So this week, House leaders are saying they do plan to pass bundling language sponsored by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.). Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, says he’s encouraged, but that it’s important to watch that the House doesn’t backslide from Senate definitions of how lobbyists “collect” or “arrange” contributions to get credit from Members of Congress or party committees.

Assuming good lobbying reform legislation passes, Congress needs to move beyond it to consider campaign finance reform — specifically, to ensure that non-lobbyists who collect funds for federal election campaigns and party committees also have to disclose their efforts.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presidential campaign has tasked members of its highest-level donor group to collect $1 million in contributions. Some of those fat-Rolodex folks may be lobbyists, but most won’t be. But many of them will have pet causes, and you can be sure, if Clinton is elected president, that they will have a special place in her heart — and on her callback list.

The Clinton campaign has not announced whether it will reveal the names of its bundlers, as President Bush did his $100,000 Pioneers and $200,000 Rangers in 2000 and 2004. According to The Washington Post, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will disclose, but former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) declined to do so in 2004 and hasn’t said whether he will for 2008. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn’t announced what he will do, either.

Congress simply should make them all do it — and also non-lobbyists who bundle for Congressional candidates and party committees. To provide total transparency, not only should the identities of bundlers be disclosed, but also the sources of the contributions they collect.

The House, at the moment, has a limited election reform agenda — pass the lobbying bill and require that electronic voting machines have paper trails, then pause. We urge the House, and the Senate, too, to not stop there. They’ve taken real steps to clean up politics this year. They should keep up the pace with a campaign finance push.