Bundlers Galore


Three makes a trend, right? Today, there are three news stories on presidential bundlers – campaign contributors who solicit money from other contributors and bundle it together – and their activities. All of these stories highlight the need for bundling disclosure rules from the Federal Election Commission. But two of these stories pinpoint the potential for abuse in the bundling system.

The Washington Post looks at the odd practices of one Harry Sargent III, the owner of an oil trading company with billion dollar defense contracts. Sargent has raised over $50,000 for Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid from a collection of Arab-Americans who refuse to discuss why they gave money to the Republican’s campaign:

Some of the most prolific givers in Sargeant’s network live in modest homes in Southern California’s Inland Empire. Most had never given a political contribution before being contacted by Sargeant or his associates. Most said they have never voiced much interest in politics. And in several instances, they had never registered to vote. And yet, records show, some families have ponied up as much as $18,400 for various candidates between December and March.

Both Sargeant and the donors were vague when asked to explain how Sargeant persuaded them to give away so much money.

“I have a lot of Arab business partners. I do a lot of business in the Middle East. I’ve got a lot of friends,” Sargeant said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I ask my friends to support candidates that I think are worthy of supporting. They usually come through for me.”

As the Post story notes, this seems analogous to the Norman Hsu case that played out in 2007. Hsu was a con-artist who bundled large sums of money for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential run from a collection of Chinese-Americans, many of whom were barely integrated into the larger American society. It turned out that Hsu funneled his own money through these individuals to be able to make contributions. Hsu was arrested for this and other crimes and Sen. Clinton returned hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Are Sargent’s bundled contributions legitimate? Why do the people who operate as Sargent’s fundraising operation refuse to discuss why they are giving these campaign contributions?

In a very similar case, two individuals of modest means, an office manager at Hess and her husband, an Amtrak foreman, contributed $61,600 to Sen. McCain’s campaign committee and a joint Republican-McCain committee. McClatchy:

Alice Rocchio is an office manager at the New York headquarters of the Hess Corp., drives a 1993 Chevy Cavalier and lives in an apartment in Queens, N.Y., with her husband, Pasquale, an Amtrak foreman.

Despite what appears to be a middle-class lifestyle, the couple has written $61,600 in checks to John McCain’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee, most of it within days of McCain’s decision to endorse offshore oil drilling.

At a June fundraiser, the Rocchios joined top executives at Hess Corp. — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hess, his wife, Susan, his mother, Norma Hess, and six other officials in giving a total of $313,500 to a joint McCain-RNC fundraising committee, Federal Election Commission records show.

Alice Rocchio insists that she and her husband used their own money to pay for these large campaign contributions, the first either her or husband have made. The June contributions to the joint committee were revealed in a Campaign Money Watch report earlier this week. The large Hess contributions came days before Sen. McCain switched his position on offshore drilling.

Clearly, these two stories show the danger of abuse in the bundling system and the clear lack of disclosure. While Congress approved disclosure of bundled contributions in the recent ethics reform bill, they only did so for federally registered lobbyists. In both cases, including the case of a federal contractor, neither party would be required to disclose the bundled contributions.

In our final bundling story of the day, the New York Times looks at the big dollar donors and bundlers surrounding Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. Despite the well-known small dollar donations machine the campaign built during the primaries, Sen. Obama is also raising massive sums from big dollar donors:

But records show that one-third of his record-breaking haul has come from donations of $1,000 or more: a total of $112 million, more than Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent in the Democratic primaries, raised in contributions of that size.

Behind those larger donations is a phalanx of more than 500 Obama “bundlers,” fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington. Nearly three dozen of the bundlers have raised more than $500,000 each, including more than a half-dozen who have passed the $1 million mark and one or two who have exceeded $2 million, according to interviews with fund-raisers.

This latest info on the McCain and Obama bundlers comes thanks to an effort by a number of groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, to pressure both campaigns to disclose their bundlers as former candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry both did. Voluntary disclosure is all well and good, but as I mentioned adove, mandatory disclosure would increase accountability and would apply across the board to include House and Senate bundlers as well.