The major 2008 presidential campaigns have recruited more than 1,800 individuals -- known as "bundlers" -- to bring in tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaign coffers, according to whitehouseforsale.org, a new Web site launched today by the campaign finance watchdog group Public Citizen.
But they're falling short on telling the public who those people are and how much they are raising, the group says. Even the Bush/Cheney campaigns -- whose administration has become notorious for its secrecy -- did a better job of disclosing where their money came from.
"The campaigns are being far less transparent about bundling than the 2004 field of candidates," says Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen's CongressWatch, which developed the site. "Anyone willing to be less transparent than, for example, George Bush, should realize we have a problem."
Bundlers are well-connected individuals who solicit contributions from friends and associates on behalf of a candidate after donating the maximum $2,300 individual donation.
While the major 2008 candidates have publicly released the names of their top fundraisers, only two, Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama, Ill., and Hillary Clinton, N.Y., have disclosed how much the bundlers have raised and published the lists on their campaign Web sites, according to Public Citizen.
Bundling has been a common campaign fundraising tool since the 1970s when post-Watergate reforms limited the amount individuals could directly contribute to federal candidates.
The practice was taken to new levels when the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign designated their top fundraisers as Bush "Pioneers" and "Rangers." The Bush campaign regularly updated the list of bundlers who raised $100,000 and $200,000 on their Web site with their state of residence.
While the major 2008 candidates have not publicly disclosed how much their top fundraisers have brought in, it's clear that they are keeping track of how much they are raising.
For example, Republican hopeful former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has taken a page from the Bush fundraising model, using baseball terminology to designate his top fundraisers as "Sluggers," "All Stars," "MVPs" and "Team Captains" for bundling $50,000 to $1 million, according to the New York Daily News. Giuliani thanked some of those top earners with a retreat in New York last weekend, where events included golf and a dinner yacht cruise (pictured above).
Democratic Sen. Clinton has also set targets for her top fundraisers, known as Hillraisers, to funnel $25,000 to $1 million in donations to her presidential campaign.
Campaign finance reform advocates, like Public Citizen, say that the practice of bundling, while legal, goes against the spirit of campaign finance laws that seek to limit the influence of campaign donors.
"There is a reason for individual campaign contribution limits, it's supposed to create a more even playing field between someone who has a vote to give and someone who can max out donations," says MacCleery. "If you have bundlers who were influence peddlers who lobby on policy issues, like Ken Lay or Jack Abramoff, those individuals have a disproportionate influence over policy."
Calls to the Giuliani, Edwards, Romney and McCain campaigns were not returned.
This post has been updated.