FEC Approves Bundling Rules

Posted December 18, 2008 at 4:33pm

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday unanimously approved long-awaited fundraising rules requiring political committees to name lobbyists who bundle campaign contributions.

The new guidelines, a section of the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, require committees to disclose lobbyists who collect fundraising checks totaling more than $15,000.

At Thursday’s meeting, the agency’s six-member bipartisan panel expressed relief that the task was behind them, but commissioners agreed that no one was walking away happy.

“It’ll get the job done,” said Democratic-appointed Commissioner Steven Walther, who will become the agency’s chairman on Jan. 1.

Before Thursday’s vote, incoming Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican, said, “no one gets everything, but it’s a workable compromise.”

But campaign finance reformers expressed real frustration with the guidelines, claiming that the new rules offer new ways for lawmakers to avoid outing their biggest rainmakers.

The Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan said the agency’s new rules “may seriously undermine” the new law by creating readily exploitable loopholes.

Perhaps most troubling to Ryan is the language of the new rules addressing what exactly defines a bundler.

Under Thursday’s ruling, Ryan said lobbyists can still bundle contributions anonymously, provided they are not formally recognized by the lawmaker’s political committee or given a “special benefit,” such as an autographed photograph.

Ryan and other campaign finance reform advocates argue that lawmakers should be required to disclose their bundlers — regardless of “tangible benefits that trigger the reporting requirements.”

“The reality is this lobbyist is probably going to get his phone calls returned,” Ryan said.

But, he added, “if the candidate knows the lobbyist bundled money, that alone is what should trigger the reporting requirement — knowledge.”

The agency is expected to issue a full report of the new rules by Jan. 15.