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Bundling

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Bundling is the "practice of rounding up contributions from your friends ... And under a campaign-finance law that took effect last November [2002], those who do it, in both parties, are the new kings of political money. 'This is the wave of the future,' says Scott Reed, a Republican political strategist and manager of Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

Overview

"The law bars the national parties from collecting huge corporate, union and individual donations, so people who can round up lots of smaller checks from their friends and business associates have become the most sought-after volunteers in politics. The new maximum contribution to a presidential candidate is $2,000 for the primaries. (The general election is financed by the government.) It takes a lot of individual contributions to fuel today's advertising-intensive campaigns.

"'The first primary is the race for the best bundlers,' says David Jones, a Democratic fundraising consultant."

"Motives for becoming a bundler can include the possibility of increased influence on government policy and consideration for appointment to ambassadorships and other government posts. More than 60 of Bush's 241 Pioneers in the 2000 campaign went on to receive appointive positions, says Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, a group that has tracked Bush's fundraising. ... 'There are going to have to be a bunch of new U.S. ambassadors, and you might as well be in the running,' says one of Bush's fundraisers, who declined to allow his name to be used for fear he would hurt his chances of being chosen.

"Others, such as Tom Everist, take on the job of fundraising because of longstanding party loyalty. Still others do it out of friendship with the candidate or the chance to feel part of the power elite. Bush's biggest fundraisers have been invited to Crawford, Texas, for barbecues with the president.

"In a deposition given in connection with a court challenge to the new campaign-finance law, Bush fundraiser Jack Oliver described how the campaign tapped a list of people who had attended Harvard Business School with Bush. The campaign also sought help from several industries, including investment, banking, insurance, oil, airlines and the arts.

"Those industries apparently were eager to get credit with the campaign for their contributions. Documents disclosed in the campaign-finance case included a memo from Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for electric utilities. ... In it, he reminded industry colleagues of the importance of including his tracking number, 1178, on their checks to the Bush campaign, to 'ensure that our industry is credited, and that your progress is listed among the other business/industry sectors.'

"The watchdog group Common Cause has identified 14 Pioneers from 2000 whose business interests benefited from Bush administration decisions, primarily through the easing of federal regulations. Those fundraisers 'prospered in their investment in the 2000 campaign,' charged the group, which supports reform of the public finance system for presidential campaigns. Bush's ability to raise large amounts has allowed him to opt out of that system for the primaries.

"In a deposition for the court case, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who sponsored the campaign-finance law, expressed concern that bundling might be the next loophole in the law he helped write. It 'could conceivably begin to recreate something that would begin to look like' the old system in which the parties could collect unlimited donations from a person or group, he said."

"Although Bush has raised bundling to a new level, he's not the only one to practice it. Many Democratic candidates for president are seeking to emulate Bush's model.

"'Every fundraising event I have had has yielded other people who will do fundraising events, and that's what you seek to do,' Rep. Richard Gephardt), D-Mo., says. 'It's like a giant Tupperware party.'

"Part of the challenge is to convert big-money donors into big-money raisers, and it's not always a sure bet. 'There's not always a correlation between somebody who can write you a $50,000 check and someone who can raise 25 $2,000 checks,' Gephardt says. 'That's a very different human skill.'

"Other Democrats also are working hard at bundling donations.

"Sen. John Forbes Kerry of Massachusetts has created a 'Hall of Fame' designation for his $100,000 bundlers. The campaign says there are about 10 members of the group so far, concentrated in Massachusetts, but he declines to disclose their names.

"Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, has benefited from supporters who can leverage their extensive contacts into campaign donations. Actor-director Rob Reiner raised $125,000 for Dean at an event at his house in Los Angeles on June 18.

"Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina takes advantage of his connections as a plaintiff's lawyer through chief fundraiser Fred Baron, whose Dallas law firm has given heavily to the campaign. Baron's network is a wide one because he headed the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

"The Democratic and Republican parties are watching the process closely. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee compared its 200,000-name donor list to a database of the wealthiest 5% of Americans and found one-fourth of the names matched.

"The average contribution from those on the list? Forty-two dollars. 'We're asking them for the wrong amount of money,' says executive director Andrew Grossman. Asking for more may require a personal touch as the Bush campaign already has shown."

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