Democrats' hoped-for summer legislative swan song will be a package of ethics reforms that, it goes without saying, won't clean up Washington; nor will it please the naysayers and perfectionists. But if these changes become law, they will give the public more information about the way Washington works nonetheless.
The bills would "provide for increased disclosure requirements for lobbyists who serve as hubs, or conduits, for bundled campaign donations."
Bundling is the nasty little "practice of rounding up contributions from your friends" family, or professional acquaintances and wrapping them into one large contribution so the sources of the contribution are harder to track. If 50 different people give to one candidate, but they're all members of the same family (one of whose members is wealthy and turns money over to the others to contribute), it is hard to trace the true source of the funds.
It has been around for a while, but under a campaign-finance law that took effect in late 2002, "those who do it, in both parties, are the new kings of political money."
Just last week, Mr. Squeaky-Clean (aka Sen. Barack Obama) encountered a bit of a dust-up in the Democratic debate over his acceptance of bundled funds. Here's an edited portion of an exchange between former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who challenged Obama on his public proclamation of not accepting money from lobbyists while taking bundled donations that could theoretically include contributions from lobbyists:
GRAVEL: I want to take on Barack Obama for a minute, who said he doesn't take money from lobbyists. Well, he has 134 bundlers. Now, what does he think that is?
And, besides that, he has received money from a Robert Wolf, the head of the USB (sic) bank in the United States, who raised $195,000—from this bank—wait a second—who has lobbyists in Washington...
MODERATOR: Senator Obama, I'm going to have to let you respond.
Well, the fact is I don't take PAC money and I don't take lobbyists' money.
And the bundlers—the reason you know who is raising money for me, Mike, is because I have pushed through a law this past session to disclose that. And that's the kind of leadership that I've shown in the Senate.
That's the kind of leadership that I showed when I was a state legislator. And that's the kind of leadership that I'll show as president of the United States."
Anything that Congress can do to more easily trace the origins of bundled contributions will add transparency to federal election financing.