BUNDLERS: A PACKAGE DEAL?

(CBS/AP)
As the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m. the quiet tree-lined street in suburban Virginia showed signs of life. One by one the two valets began attending the luxury cars and wealthy occupants pulling up to a stately home belonging to a former Attorney General of the United States. On this evening, William Barr, now general counsel for Verizon, and wife Christine, were hosting a $1,000 per person fund-raiser on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, and from the looks of things, they were getting a high-priced crowd.

Producer Laura Strickler and I were on the street to get a first-hand look at how the vast majority of campaign money is raised these days. Because federal law limits individual donations to $2,300 per person, candidates call upon an elite group of Americans – about 2,000 in all – to package together small donations into big bundles of cash, often $100,000 or more. In the world of political fund raising they are known as Bundlers. Outside Barr's house they appeared more blue blood than blue collar -- industry titans, CEOs, lawyers, lobbyists, hedge fund managers and philanthropists. It was much the same story at a major Hillary event at Town Hall in New York, a seven-member Host Committee including philanthropist Barbaralee Diamonstein, Susan Ness from Greenstone Media, Rosina Rubin of Attitude New York, a limousine company and Matt Mallow from the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Our story tonight asked perhaps the most obvious question: What do these bundlers GET for delivering all that cash? If you turn out to be like Ken Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot who has raised millions for Rudy Guiliani and other candidates, the answer is probably nothing. A while back I interviewed Langone in his impressive corner office in the Seagram Building, the classiest of Manhattan office space. Langone is equally classy, if not more so. When he says he wouldn't want anything for all he does, that he's in it because he believes in America, believes in who he's backing…you believe him. Lord, we had a helluva good time going back and forth, engaged in a spirited give and take. I absolutely love talking to people like Ken, who, unlike 40 others we contacted, wasn't afraid to defend his actions. Maybe it's because he finds it "most disrespectful…. to take money from friends to get something for me."

As I said with a laugh, well, you may be a cult of one. Because it turns out people ARE asking for something back. Sometimes they want access; other times, an appointment or influence. We cite some enlightening links between Bush Bundlers and administration appointments, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be more in the next White House. For those, Langone has some advice: "Are there people that do it for getting something back? I'm sure there are. But you want to know the truth? That's the best way to get in trouble."

We can only speculate as to whom because campaigns are secretive. They usually don't advertise bundler events. Thompson's campaign won't even say WHO his bundlers are. The rest give out names and general categories – like more than $50,000 – but no specifics. For example, the Clinton campaign said the infamous bundler Norman Hsu was in the category of raising "over $100,000". But when Clinton went to return the money he raised, she turned over far more - $850,000. That's why transparency matters. If the public can find out who has raised the MOST for the candidates, it gives all of us a better sense of who might have the most influence in the next administration.

At first, we thought one campaign would break ranks. Senator Barack Obama's spokesperson told us they would release a list of bundler amounts to CBS News. Today the campaign says due to pressures on its finance team to finish the fundraising quarter, the amounts are not ready. But they say they'll have something to show in a few more weeks.

We'll be waiting.

  • Armen Keteyian

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