The Corner

When a Requirement Isn’t a Requirement

The Democrats’ much-ballyhooed ethics law — the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 — contains many important provisions to clean up Washington. For one thing, it bars low-wage staffers on the Hill from receiving free tickets to local sporting events. It prevents reporters from certain publications from buying them lunch. It also requires that lawmakers and staff must stand, not sit, when they eat free food at Washington functions. It prevents them from taking a meal from a lobbyist unless he shows up with a campaign contribution (because then the meeting is considered a “fundraiser”). It requires former senators to lobby the House instead of the Senate for the first two years after they leave office.

 In short, this law contains lots of bark and no real bite. And this month, we get a look at just how effective another major provision in that law will be — namely, the new requirement pertaining to the reporting of contributions “bundled” by lobbyists.

The word “requirement” is definitely an overstatement in this case. A campaign or political action committee is required to report bundled contributions of amounts greater than $16,000 only if it wants to keep track of them or give its bundlers special recognition (recall the Bush “rangers” and pioneers,” whom he voluntarily disclosed). Yes, you did read that correctly, and no, it doesn’t really make much sense. If a campaign wants to track bundlers, then it must report them. If it doesn’t want to track bundlers, then it doesn’t have to report them. For practical purposes, compliance is strictly voluntary.

The first reporting deadline for bundler-lobbyists under the new law was May 20, and that applied only to campaign committees that file monthly reports. According to BNA’s Money and Politics Report, out of the 252 committees that file monthly, only two chose to report their bundlers. (One was the DSCC, the other was a PAC controlled by Rep. Henry Waxman, D, Calif.)

Most FEC-regulated entities file quarterly reports. Their mid-year reports are due in mid-July, so it is entirely possible that there will be more disclosure then. But don’t be surprised when most of the campaigns opt to avoid the added hassle, paperwork, and transparency by simply adopting an internal policy of not tracking bundlers. Even better if it is a written policy designed to inoculate you from future FEC attempts to enforce a toothless, cosmetic law.


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