Friday, July 11, 2008

Obama practice what you preach- full disclosure of fundraising 'bundlers' -

“Obama was saying he was the most transparent, but it wasn’t even on par with Bush and Cheney.” -- Alexander Cohen, senior researcher at Public Citizen.

Sen. Barack Obama has long been among the most outspoken critics of the influence of money in politics. Yet records show that in his presidential campaign, he hasn't lived up to the promises to fully disclose the identities of top money collectors who bundle millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

Obama had added just two new names to a list of 326 fundraisers who have bundled contributions of $50,000 or more for him since November, despite the campaign's taking in more than $180 million during that time.

After receiving an inquiry from The New York Times, the campaign scrambled to update its list of bundlers, adding 181 names, more than a 50% jump, increasing the amounts some were credited with raising. The number of bundlers who have collected $200,000 or more increased to 138 from 78.

Obama, in particular, has made transparency a cornerstone of his campaign, even introducing a bill in the Senate last year that would mandate that presidential candidates identify their bundlers. Yet he and his campain have been lax in practicing what he preaches, and had to scramble when forced to disclose the big money people who are buying him donating to his campaign.

Bundlers fuel the fundraising of pres campaigns by collecting piles of checks from wealthy acquaintances in a practice that critics say gives them excessive influence. While Obama has collected unprecedented amounts in donations over the internet, he also has a formidable high dollar fundraising apparatus of wealthy, big business and Wall Street insiders.

A number of members of Obama's National Finance Committee, who have each committed to raising at least $250,000 for him, were not on the publicly available bundler list on the campaign's Web site as of late Thursday. Several of the missing members said they had begun raising money for Obama in early to mid '07. Two dozen more names were added to the list once the campaign was under pressure to disclose.

The irregular disclosure records of Obama, despite repeated notice from watchdog groups, compare unfavorably with Bush in his 2 pres campaign bids. “Obama was saying he was the most transparent, but it wasn't even on par with Bush and Cheney,” said Alexander Cohen, senior researcher at Public Citizen. The nonpartisan watchdog group recently sent letters to Obama along with other organizations calling for them to disclose more information about their donors. They said about 100 of the 181 names should have been added at the end of this year's first quarter.

Obama campaign officials acknowledged they fell behind with their plan to update the list quarterly and that they hadn't added any names since January. “Keeping track of how much our bundlers have raised is not an exact science, and we will be vigilant in updating those names and figures,” a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. (bullshit)

McCain is also being asked to fess up - It's unclear how many bundlers might be missing from his list. McCain's enjoyed a surge in fundraising in recent months ($26 mil just last month).

At a debate in South Carolina last year, Obama boasted of his campaign's level of disclosure and claims he's practiced this in his political career (lol).

Although there is no legal requirement for candidates to disclose their bundlers, in 2000 and 2004, President Bush identified people who had raised at least $100,000 for his campaign, whom he called “Pioneers.” In 2004, he also listed the names of those who had raised $200,000 or more, calling them “Rangers. Watchdog groups pored over Bush's lists, discovering 49 Pioneers or Rangers that later became ambassadors.

In March, after months of requests from Chicago Sun-Times, the Obama campaign released a roster of nearly 300 people on its National Finance Committee to the newspaper. But the campaign declined this week to release a more recent roster to The New York Times.

Before Thursday evening, however, a dozen Obama fundraisers confirmed in interviews that they had either surpassed the $50,000 mark for Obama and were not on the campaign's bundler list or that they were no longer in the correct category on the Web site, which divides bundlers by those who have raised more than $50,000, $100,000 and $200,000.

“The conspiracy theory is they don't want you to know everybody,” said Mitchell Berger, a lawyer in Florida who signed on with the Obama campaign early this year but declined to say exactly how much he has raised, except to confirm it was more than $250,000. “The Mitchell-Berger-I've-been-in-campaigns' theory is, this is not the first thing I'd do in the morning if I'm running a campaign, update a finance list,” Berger said. His name was added to the list on Thursday evening.

Late April one name was actually removed from the Web site, that of Robert Blackwell Jr., a Chicago businessman. Blackwell's name was taken off the list in late April after the Los Angeles Times revealed that he had paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer for legal advice for a technology firm he owned and that Obama had written a letter on Blackwell's behalf so another company he owned could get a state grant. *interesting The Obama campaign said they removed Blackwell's name after learning that he had not met the $50,000 threshold.

The new names added to the Obama campaign list included Federico Pena, the former transportation secretary, and Edward Lamont, the telecommunications millionaire who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Also added were two of Obama's closest friends, Valerie Jarrett and Judson Miner, and Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue magazine. The list now includes a pair of Michigan plaintiff's lawyers, Gerald Acker and Barry Goodman, former Edwards people.

Topic of NYT
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