For years, lobbyists have vied to bundle political contributions to score points with lawmakers. That may change under new FEC rules that take effect in two weeks.
The long-awaited fundraising rules require political action committees to name lobbyists who bundle campaign contributions of more than $16,000. (Under an annual indexing formula, the number has been increased from the initial $15,000.)
The new rules, which go into effect on March 19, are causing consternation for many lobbyists who do not want their fundraising activities publicly recorded.
Several lobbyists said they would limit their fundraising for Members and campaign committees to less than $16,000 to avoid being publicly labeled a bundler on Federal Election Commission reports.
“My guess is we’ll have a lot of $15,000 fundraisers,— said Ken Kies of Clark Consulting Federal Policy Group.
Kies, himself a prolific political donor, said most of the events he hosts would not require lawmakers to report him as a bundler.
“For lobbyists putting on fundraisers, frankly, part of the reason they do them is they want to get credit for what they’ve done,— Kies said. “But the real question is do the Members of Congress care— about having to report bundlers.
The bundling rules require party committees, leadership PACs and lawmakers’ re-election committees to report the names, addresses, employers and amounts of money raised when registered lobbyists raise multiple donations of more than $16,000 for campaigns in either the first or second half of the year.
The guidelines, mandated by the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, were approved 15 months after the lobbying overhaul legislation was enacted. The delay was caused by a standoff in the Senate last year over the appointment of FEC commissioners.
Besides raising less, lobbyists said they are looking to host events with multiple names on the invite to ensure that no single person is given credit for more than $16,000.
Reform groups such as Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center said they will be watching those types of activities when the first round of reporting happens at the end of June.
“The rule as written presents the option to office holders to simply add enough lobbyists as co-hosts to their fundraising event to keep the lobbyists below the reporting threshold,— said Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center. “It’s an easy end-around the disclosure Congress enacted.—
Fundraisers such as Monica Notzon said they are trying to comply with both the letter and spirit of the law.
Notzon’s firm, the Bellwether Group, has been voluntarily tracking lobbyists’ fundraising for the past year in preparation for the rules. The firm is also signing contracts with a “best effort— clause that will weigh each lobbyist’s bundling instead of giving every person on the invite equal distribution of the funds raised at events.
Still, Notzon said, they are sensitive to the fact that some lobbyists want to keep out of the public eye.
“We’ve changed the way we do business in terms of organizing our finance committees by saying we don’t expect you to raise more than [$16,000] … when before we may have placed higher limits,— Notzon said.
“I’m lowering the bar so that there isn’t a barrier to entry,— she added.
Not all lobbyists are shying away from their role as bundlers.
“There’s a difference of opinion in the community about whether it’s a good thing to be seen as a bundler,— said Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies. “Some people would think that is what their clients are asking them to do.—
Democratic lobbyists Tony and Heather Podesta, well-known for contributing and hosting events, don’t expect to make any big changes to their fundraising strategy.
“We’re always going to be operating within the rules, understanding that what we do is very public,— Heather Podesta said. “The onus is on the campaign committees and on the Members, and I think as this gets worked out and people understand what this means, we’ll do what is needed.—
The Podestas have raised several thousand dollars for Democratic candidates this year, hosting events for both Democratic campaign committees, Sens. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, among others.