There Oughta Be a Law

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As the pundits debate what the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP presidential ticket means for the race, one sure thing the presumptive candidate for vice president brings to the campaign is a prodigious fundraising ability. According to today’s Washington Post, as a mere congressional candidate, Ryan has raised more than $8 million for this year’s election. That figure will soon be dwarfed when he starts dialing for dollars as a national candidate. But, it is safe to assume that, like the man at the top of the ticket, he will keep secret the identities of some of the most influential donors to the campaign—the bundlers who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in one fell swoop and get unprecedented access to the candidates in return.

President Obama, like presidential candidates on the right and left before him, voluntarily discloses his bundlers. Sunlight and others have called for the Romney campaign to do the same, but as with his tax returns, Romney seems unwilling to voluntarily disclose more than he is legally required to.

It would be nice to be able to trust our potential leaders to do the right thing, but since we can’t, there oughta be a law. Conveniently enough, language to require disclosure bundler has already been written. Part of the Presidential Funding Act (S. 3312 and H.R. 414) would require presidential candidate committees to report the name, address, and employer of each person who provided 2 or more bundled contributions totaling $50,000 or more to the campaign, as well as the amount of the contributions.

Under current law, campaigns must publicly identify individuals who contribute $200 or more. Disclosure of bundlers who happen to be registered lobbyists is also required. The missing piece is disclosure of the elite individuals who have the ability to hit up their friends, family, neighbors and business associates to amass six figure contributions that make a big impact on candidates. Big enough to warrant weekly phone calls with the campaign, invitations to retreats with the candidates, the possibility of plum assignments like ambassadorships if the candidate is elected, and access to the leaders of the free world to attempt to influence them on policy.

Now that there is precedent, future presidential candidates may, like Romney, decide to keep secret the identity of their major funders. Rather than rely on candidates’ moral compasses to steer them toward transparency, Congress should remove the option of secrecy and enact a law to require that presidential candidates disclose their bundlers.

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