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All bundled up

The House should shine the light on the people who help the people who help politicians raise money.

February 08, 2007

IN CAMPAIGNING last year against the "culture of corruption," the Democrats who now control Congress set the stage for a bidding war between the House and Senate over ethics reform. So far it's been good for both chambers, not to mention the American public, but on one issue the competition could stand another round.

First the House approved a ban on members accepting gifts, meals and travel on corporate jets, shaming the Senate into following suit.

Then the Senate upped the ante by voting to deny future pensions to members convicted of serious crimes (an initiative quickly emulated by the House) and passing a measure requiring disclosure of the arcane but influential practice in which lobbyists "bundle" campaign contributions.

In some societies, "bundling" is the practice of betrothed couples chastely sharing a bed. In Washington, "bundling" takes place when someone -- not necessarily a lobbyist -- orchestrates and then takes credit for several contributions to candidates for Congress (many of whom, of course, are incumbents) or to party committees.

A bundler can be more than a collector of contributions; he can also stage the fundraiser at which donors are asked to help the cause. And bundling isn't confined to the raising of campaign funds. It also takes the form of lobbyists orchestrating fundraising for presidential inauguration events and presidential libraries.

Bundling by anyone goes against the spirit of federal election law, which encourages small contributions. But bundling by lobbyists also has the effect of increasing the clout of those who are in the day-to-day business of trying to influence legislation. Yet, unlike their other activities, bundling by lobbyists is not a matter of public record.

It would be public under the Senate ethics bill and a similar House proposal by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.). This week, six campaign-reform groups, including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, sent a letter to members calling bundling disclosure "essential" to lobbying reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has promised that the 110th Congress would be "the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history." She can make good on that pledge by steeling her colleagues to resist the importuning of lobbyists -- and their own worse instincts -- and join the Senate in shining light on bundling.

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