2020 presidential field mostly mum on disclosing campaign bundlers

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Now that the first quarter fundraising deadline has passed, a clearer picture of the 2020 fundraising has emerged. Several days before the deadline, on April 11, the Center for Responsive Politics joined with 15 other transparency-focused organizations to request candidates to release information on their campaign bundlers.

The letter called for the campaigns to release information on “all individuals who raise $50,000 or more for your campaign.”  

Bundlers are individuals who serve as important and well-connected fundraisers, who, after they themselves hit the individual contribution limit, solicit and collect donations from others on the behalf of a campaign. There are no bundler disclosure rules, with the exception of requiring the disclosure of bundling from registered lobbyists. Therefore, it’s an entirely voluntary decision by campaigns to release any information about bundlers.

In the past, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush all released information on their bundlers. President Donald Trump opted not to release any information on his bundlers in 2016.  

The Center for Responsive Politics reached out to the 21 major Democratic and Republican campaigns informing them of the letter and asking if they planned to disclose bundler information. Just two campaigns responded — author Marianne Williamson and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Patricia Ewing, a spokeswoman for the Williamson campaign, said the campaign doesn’t have any bundlers and doesn’t plan to have any during the primary. She said it is a “small donor campaign” and added that it had the fifth-highest percentage of small donors in the first quarter.

Mike Morley, from Ryan’s campaign, said the two-week-old effort doesn’t have any bundlers yet, but “will air on the side of transparency” and disclosure bundler information if they get any during the primary. Morley said that when he talked to Ryan about the media inquiry, Ryan joked that Morley should ask the reporter if the reporter knew any available bundlers.  

Three other campaigns acknowledged the request but did not respond by press time. The campaigns of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) either said they would pass it along to someone or said the press team would be in touch. No one from any of those campaigns replied to follow-up requests.

The lack of response doesn’t mean some campaigns haven’t been recruiting former bundlers as contributors — many already have. Harris leads the pack with donations from 176 bundlers for the Clinton and Obama networks. Booker boasts 80 donations from bundlers and Gillibrand (67) and Klobuchar (61) also had strong support.

As he made a rapid ascent in the polls, Pete Buttigieg attracted the attention of a number of wealthy bundlers like Laurie David, producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” and members of the family who owns the Minnesota Twins. On April 18, Buttigieg held a New York City-based fundraiser with prominent Broadway bigwigs. In May, Buttigieg will attend a D.C. fundraiser with Steve Elmendorf, a former lobbyist and Clinton bundler, and Barry Karas, an Obama bundler.

However, despite the involvement of some bundlers, the vast majority are still sitting it out. Politico reported that four-in-five of the fundraisers for Obama and Clinton have yet to give to anyone in the 2020 primary thus far.

Bundlers often are crucial cash cows for candidates, raking in millions. During the 2016 election cycle, the Clinton campaign received a massive $112.3 million from 1,129 bundlers. The most common industries Clinton’s bundlers worked in were lawyers/law firms and securities and investment, industries unpopular with the Democratic base.

Trump likely received substantial support from Republican bundlers, but since he didn’t voluntarily disclose information relating to bundling it is unknown how much he raised through that method.  

In the 2008 general election, Obama raised around $76.2 million from 558 bundlers and McCain collected around $75.8 million from 536. The successful Obama campaign also received much of its bundled money from the finance and law industries.

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