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Lobbyists bundle donations to Senate Democrats, Trump Victory

Campaign finance groups call on Trump, Biden to disclose more bundlers

Lobbyist bundlers rounded up $250,000 for the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm during the second quarter of this year, even as many of the party’s candidates run against the corporate interests those K Street denizens represent, new disclosures show. 

That sum was a fraction of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s overall fundraising, which topped $20.1 million just in April and May. And it represented a decline from the $1.3 million bundled by lobbyists from January through March, largely before the coronavirus forced many in-person fundraisers into hiatus, disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission show. 

But it highlights how even in a pandemic, advocates trying to influence federal policy are working in support of candidates who may someday vote on it, even though the candidates are keeping their distance from corporate PAC money.

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Campaigns are only required to disclose bundlers who are registered federal lobbyists, so it’s not possible to track the ebb and flow of other people who gather contributions from groups of donors and pool them together, unless campaigns and committees release them voluntarily. 

That prompted a cross section of ideological groups last week to renew their calls on the campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden to disclose everyone who is bundling contributions together for their campaigns. The Biden campaign does not accept donations from lobbyists and has refunded such contributions in the past, but last year — when the candidate still had many competitors for the Democratic nomination — it offered the names late last year of people who had bundled at least $25,000 for the campaign. The campaign has not updated the list since December.   

“Basically, President Trump’s campaign has not disclosed anything beyond the lobbyist bundling activity that they are required by law to report,” said Michael Beckel, research director for Issue One, a campaign finance overhaul group that signed on to the letter to the presidential campaigns. 

In the letter, the groups asked the Biden campaign to “include in these bundling totals the amounts of money your bundlers raise for any joint fundraising committees that benefit your campaign and any state or national party committees. ​Precise fundraising disclosures are important at a time when an individual is legally allowed to contribute $620,600 to the Biden Victory Fund joint fundraising committee.”

Like the DSCC, which filed a bundling report this week, the joint fundraising committee Trump Victory disclosed the contributions bundled by lobbyists during the second quarter, totaling more than $2.1 million. 

Those lobbyists included Brian Ballard, who runs Ballard Partners and whose recent clients have included foreign governments such as Turkey as well as and General Motors. David Tamasi of the Chartwell Strategy Group was also among the Trump Victory lobbyist bundlers; his recent clients have included ​iHeartMedia, according to disclosures filed with Congress.

The Republican National Committee disclosed hauling in about $275,000 in lobbyist-bundled contributions for the second quarter, including from Tamasi.

The DSCC’s bundlers listed on its second-quarter filing, which also includes some from the entire first half of the year, included the PACs of lobbying and law firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; and Holland & Knight. 

Individual lobbyists helping the DSCC raise money included David Castagnetti of the firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas; Linda Lipsen of the trial lawyers group American Association for Justice; and Heather Podesta, who runs the firm Invariant.

Much of the fundraising energy among Democrats has come in smaller donations, and even some high-dollar bundlers are finding it’s easier to raise smaller amounts from more people than the $1,000 contributions that draw donors for in-person events (when there’s not a pandemic going on). 

“It’s not hard to amass $100, $200 donations from a wider group of people excited about beating Trump,” said Alex Slater, founding partner of the Clyde Group and a bundler for Biden. Slater, whose D.C. firm does public relations and issue advocacy, is not a registered lobbyist. 

“Those who wouldn’t usually see it as their duty to give money to politics have stepped up,” he added.

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