FEC Bundling Rules: "So What?"

Last month the FEC issued new rules to disclose bundled contributions for lobbyists.

Last month the FEC issued new rules to disclose bundled contributions for lobbyists. The Commission wrote the guidelines to implement parts of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. The vote was unanimous and is accompanied by a 70-page explanation and justification document on the FEC website. Under the regime, “reporting committees” are required to identify bundled contributions when they receive two or more bundled contributions that exceed a “reporting threshold.” The reporting threshold is set at $16,000 for 2009 and will be indexed for inflation each year. A reporting committee is defined as a federal candidate committee, leadership PAC or political party committee. The new rules take effect March 19 and the initial reporting period runs through the end of June.There’s an extra little tidbit for PACs in the new rules, too. If your organization has a PAC and a registered lobbyist, a “lobbyist/registrant PAC,” you’ll have to amend your filing status with the FEC. This fact was lost initially on many PACs when the rules were first issued. The deadline to file an amended Form 1 (a PAC’s Statement of Organization) is March 29th. Reactions to the bundling rules range from “so-what?” to vigorous criticism from the reform community. Bradley Smith at the Center for Competitive Politics thinks there is nothing important in the new rules. He suggests that all the hoopla over bundling is little more than reformist hand-wringing, misplaced anxiety ove at the idea that lobbyists might actually encourage others to join them in pooling their money in support of candidates, parties or causes. Fred Wirtheimer at Democracy 21 and Paul Ryan from the Campaign Legal Center see the new rules as a Swiss cheese of loopholes and imprecision. They note that the actual designation of a bundler as described in the E&J is left to a determination by the recipient committee. Their reading of the piece suggests that it will be relatively easy for committees to dodge the reporting requirements by refusing to acknowledge the existence of a bundler, or by attributing bundled contributions among several fundraiser co-sponsors. The first wave of reports will be out in a few months, when their effects—or lack thereof—will become clearer.Steven Billet is the Director of the Masters in Legislative Affairs and the Chief of Staff at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. He can be reached at sbillet@gwu.edu.

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