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FEC Thwarts Transparency

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Yesterday, the Federal Election Commission unanimously approved new disclosure rules regarding bundling, the practice of collecting campaign contributions from friends, co-workers, clients and other associates. (Currently an individual can give up to $2,300 per election to a candidate for president or Congress. But by collecting multiple checks from various sources, bundlers have no limit on what they can raise for a candidate, gaining much favor with the campaign. Lobbyists are masters at the practice.) The FEC was finally creating guidelines for the implementation of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which Congress passed partly to bring more transparency to bundling.

Unfortunately, the FEC ruling compromises the transparency purpose of the law to 'provide for the broadest possible disclosure' of bundling activities. The FEC ruled that campaigns, parties and candidate-affiliated political action committees would now have to disclose the names, addresses, employers and amounts raised by these called "bundlers," according to CQ. Sounds good, right? But this requirement applies only to registered lobbyists. (Hint: not all influence peddlers are registered.) Plus, the rule applies only when there is a written record of the bundling, or when the candidate gives something to a lobbyist in return like a title or a gift of appreciation, such as an autographed photo. "Knowledge on the part of a candidate that a lobbyist has bundled contributions is not enough under the new FEC rule to trigger reporting requirements, according to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC). "Instead, in the absence of a written record, knowledge plus a tangible benefit to the lobbyist is required to trigger the reporting requirements."

Other huge loopholes exist. The new rules require only those individuals who bundle $15,000 or more be disclosed. As Paul Ryan, FEC program director for CLC, points out, the rule allows jointly hosted events, where several lobbyists can split up the credit for the money raised, allowing them to fall below the $15,000 disclosure threshold.

The FEC has, until very recently, been inactive, as a result of partisan gridlock between the Bush Administration and the Democratically-controlled Senate over appointments to the panel so it took them over a year to make this ruling. Too bad they got their act together.