On Monday afternoon, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg agreed, more than seven months after launching his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, to start allowing members of the media into his fundraisers and to begin disclosing his bundlers ― the term for the typically wealthy supporters of a presidential candidate who not only donate their own cash, but also collect donations from others.
Buttigieg had previously released an initial list of bundlers in April, and California Sen. Kamala Harris had released her bundlers before dropping out of the race earlier this month. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren don’t engage in high-dollar fundraising, and thus don’t have bundlers. A few wealthy candidates outside the top tier ― former Rep. John Delaney, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and businessman Tom Steyer ― are funding campaigns with millions of dollars of their own money.
What about the many, many other remaining candidates competing for the right to challenge Donald Trump, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker? They’ve been radio silent on the issue, a sharp break from more than a decade of established practice. Every Democratic presidential nominee in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2016 elections disclosed their bundlers, meaning this year’s crop of candidates has taken a direct step backward on campaign finance transparency.
“There are important differences in this race among Democratic candidates, from creating a choice of affordable health care choices for all to removing cost as a barrier to college for those who need it, but transparency shouldn’t be one of them,” Buttigieg campaign manager Michael Schmul said in announcing the campaign’s new policy.
Buttigieg likely wouldn’t have promised to release his bundlers unless Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren had challenged him to do so, prompting an extremely awkward Friday night showdown with the media. But the media shouldn’t only ask candidates to release their bundlers when Warren prompts them to.
So HuffPost asked the Biden, Booker and Klobuchar campaigns about releasing their bundlers. None indicated they had a plan to release the names any time soon.
There are scant laws governing the disclosure of campaign bundlers, making their disclosure more of a matter of tradition. Campaigns are only required to disclose federal registered lobbyists who raise $16,000 or more to the Federal Election Commission. And lobbyists found that they can even avoid this disclosure law by getting enough of them to co-host an event so as to split the total bundled to under $16,000 per lobbyist.
Major presidential candidates began voluntarily disclosing their bundlers in 2000 after then-candidate George W. Bush promised, somewhat unintentionally, to release the names of his big fundraisers. The campaign gave fun names based on the amount raised by each bundler. “Rangers” raised over $100,000 while “Pioneers” raised more than $200,000.
This practice became the norm, briefly. Every major Democratic Party candidate in the 2004 primary and in the 2008 primary disclosed bundlers. During the 2008 general election, both John McCain, the Republican Party nominee, and Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, disclosed the names of their bundlers. And they did so with more transparency than previous candidates. Both candidates disclosed bundlers into four categories for how much they raised: $50,000 to $100,000, $100,001 to $200,000, $200,000 to $500,000 and those giving above $500,000.
That was the high point of bundler disclosure. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, never disclosed his bundlers. Neither did any of the Republican Party primary candidates.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in 2016, disclosed a list of her bundlers, but limited it to just those who raised $100,000 or more. This was less disclosure than either Obama, McCain or Bush. Only two Republican candidates said they would disclose bundlers in 2016: Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Bush disclosed names of those who raised $17,600 or more, but did not provide other categories based on total raised. Walker dropped out of the race before getting around to disclosing his list.
And some progress has been made on campaign finance this cycle: Every candidate with a chance at the nomination has turned down money from corporate PACs and lobbyists.
Tara Golshan contributed reporting.