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« They talk big, but will candidates deliver the fundraising transparency we need? | Main | White House for Sale on Counterspin »

Tying it all together

Yesterday morning, the Washington Post explored how the dash for cash puts pressure on lower level employees and others to pony up when the boss has signed on to financially support a candidate. The Post found that 526 secretaries, administrative assistants and executive assistants have contributed to the presidential candidates in the first half of this year, a roughly four-fold increase from the 127 donors with those occupations who contributed during the same time period four years ago.

In a somewhat dismissive aside, the Post cited Former Federal Election Commissioner Scott Thomas' reading that pressuring low-paid subordinates isn't even necessarily illegal as long as supervisors don't "facilitate" the donations. Bundlers would, however, be breaking the law if they are reimbursing their employees under the table. The paper seemed to be making light of what seems to be a credible explanation. What are we supposed to think when an employee, who may only take home $20,000 to $30,000 a year after taxes, is forking over as much as a tenth of their paycheck to a candidate?

The paper didn't drop a lot of names on who's doing the asking, which is not surprising, given the candidates slack disclosure methods on their top rainmakers. Some candidates have lists of names of top fundraisers tucked away in odd corners of their Web sites and some dribble out information to the press, but no candidate has been forthcoming about exactly how much money these people are bringing in or who they're hitting up to get it. Most of the campaigns don't release employer information, which we've had to piece together from FEC filings, newspaper clips and other sources, and many failed to list where their bundlers live as well. The fact that Barack Obama has disclosed that he has a bundler named Mark Smith is useless without knowing where he lives or works.

Though it didn't name his solicitor, the Post did note the case of one California employee, chauffeur Pedro Canas, who gave the maximum legal donation of $2,300 to John McCain after being approached by one of his company's officials. Sleuthing with White House For Sale's search engine, I was able to look up McCain's California bundlers that we know about. Canas works for TSG Consumer Partners, a private equity firm, and its CEO, J. Gary Shansby, is a McCain bundler. It's suggestive, but doesn't quite prove that Shansby pressed his chauffeur. And McCain isn't offering any of his straight talk to fill in the gaps.

In another example of what candidates are holding back, Marc Ambinder noted on Friday that Bill Richardson and his finance team had a donor retreat in Sante Fe last week, where 120 of Richardson's supporters were briefed on the status of the campaign. While some of them are among the 16 people we've identified bundling for Richardson, most are clearly staying anonymous.

In short, while the candidates are claiming they have nothing to hide, it seems like they are seeking a pass on letting the public know who they may be beholden to, and who may skip to the head of the line on January 20, 2009.

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