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Campaign watch: Tracking down the powerful inner circle ‘bundlers’

romey campaign

Photo by Flickr user BU Interactive News

They are called “bundlers” and in the world of campaign finance, these are rich people with friends in high places.

Bundlers are the “VIPs” of political campaigns: Once a wealthy of influential person hits the limits on personal contributions to their favorite presidential candidate and party, they can then turn to their equally rich friends to write checks as well. They “bundle’’ them up and give them to their candidate in one big batch. In doing so, bundlers become part of the in-crowd of a campaign, ones who have access to the candidate’s ear and often become part of his inner circle once in office.

For reporters, gaining the names of bundlers is a treasure trove into finding out who is holding fund-raising sway, who might turn out to be gossipy and good sources of information, and who might be seen getting plum assignments or coveted White House invitations in the years ahead.

When President George W. Bush was running for the White House in 2000, he called this group his Pioneers, a designation given to people who raised $100,000 on his behalf.  Bush set a precedent for full disclosure by identifying his bundlers. In fact, the Bush campaign took great pride in promoting this group of well-heeled supporters and in boasting of their fund-raising prowess.

Since then, all Presidential candidates have followed Bush’s lead. In fact, the Federal law requires the disclosure of all bundlers who are registered as lobbyists, although there are sufficient loopholes so that this is an easy requirement to evade.

As a result, candidates have voluntarily – often with a hefty nudge from the press and campaign finance reformers – disclosed their bundler list on their own. That is, until the current election when Mitt Romney, who disclosed his bundlers in his failed 2008 Presidential bid, decided to keep mum. Romney’s refusal has gotten a lot of good government groups riled up. A coalition has recently written to the Romney campaign asking that these bundlers be disclosed.  And the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates the OpenSecrets.org campaign finance website, has launched a petition drive urging Romney to release the names along with putting a running clock on its home page showing how long its request has been ignored.

So far, Romney has voluntarily disclosed the bare minimum about his lobbyist-bundlers. Those who raise over $500,000 are called “Romney Stars” and while those at the $250,000 level are designated as “Romney Stripes” according to Politico. His voluntary disclosure identified only 34 bundlers, who have raised a total of $5.2 million for the campaign, a pittance considering the enormous sums being raised on his behalf.


OpenSecrets.org graphic that details the role of bundlers.

Even that disclosure has proved to be a bit of an embarrassment for the Romney campaign. Heading his list of bundlers is Patrick J. Durkin, a registered lobbyist for Barclay bank, which is at the center of an international scandal over interest rate manipulation. Durkin has bundled $1.1 million for the Romney campaign. Open Secrets has estimated that if everyone Durkin contacted gave the maximum $5,000 allowed by law, he would have had to contact more than 220 people.

Romney is heading to London this week, where Durkin will co-host a fund-raiser on his behalf. His fellow host had been his boss, Robert E. Diamond Jr., until the scandal forced Diamond to step down as the bank’s chief executive. Diamond then stepped down as co-host of the Romney fundraiser .

On the Democratic side, bundlers have come to the aid of President Barack Obama, who has been shuttling between New York and Los Angeles to appear at fund-raisers organized by his bundler friends. So far, a total of 532 bundlers have raised $106 million for the Obama re-election effort.

Given the interest in seeing who is giving – or bundling — the big bucks, it may be that a lot of Democrats will be signing the petition to shake loose the names of the Romney bundlers.

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