Cross-partisan coalition urges presidential candidates to embrace transparency and disclose their big-money campaign fundraisers

Many presidential candidates are relying on networks of wealthy, well-connected donors to help them raise large sums of campaign cash. Will any of these White House hopefuls publicly disclose the names of these elite fundraisers?

They should, according to a new letter sent today by Issue One and 15 other organizations from across the ideological spectrum to all Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

This letter urging candidates to publicly release information about their top campaign fundraisers on a regular basis during the 2020 presidential election comes as candidates are preparing to file their mandatory third-quarter campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission, which must be submitted by midnight on October 15.

To date, no presidential candidate has voluntarily released the information requested in this letter about their top fundraisers — who are also known as “bundlers” because they traditionally raised literal bundles of campaign checks. 

“Government accountability depends on transparency in our campaign finance system, and that includes transparency about presidential campaign bundlers,” the letter states. “Today, we call on you to implement a system to regularly and meaningfully disclose information about your campaign bundlers.”

It continues: “Implementing a robust bundler disclosure system that publicly displays information about all individuals who raise $50,000 or more for your campaign would help demonstrate your commitment to transparency as you seek your party’s presidential nomination.”

Bundlers frequently raise vast sums of money for candidates — often hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars — to curry favor with those candidates. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, campaign bundlers have received plum postings, such as ambassadorships and positions on commissions.

It has long been a bipartisan tradition for presidential candidates to voluntarily disclose information about their top fundraisers. This transparency practice has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, including President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (President Donald Trump broke with tradition and did not release a list of his campaign bundlers in 2016.) 

This letter also comes on the heels of similar letters sent in April and June. Since the last letter was sent, seven presidential candidates have ended their campaigns and four additional candidates — Democrats Joe Sestak and Tom Steyer and Republicans Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh — have joined the race.

In April, an official from Democrat Andrew Yang’s campaign told Issue One that his campaign did not have any bundlers as that time but would “absolutely disclose that information” if they did.

Similarly, the campaigns of Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Tim Ryan have also pledged to disclose their bundlers. Just one has taken any steps to implement their promises. 

In April, Buttigieg’s campaign released a list of roughly two dozen people raising money on its behalf. But this disclosure had significant gaps — such as not including any information about how much money each bundler had raised — and it has not been updated by the campaign since.

Additionally, several Democratic presidential candidates — including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Sestak, and Marianne Williamson — have said they do not have official bundler programs. 

Tom Steyer has likewise said that he does not have a bundler program at this time, noting that if that changes, he will be “disclosing their identities and the amounts they have raised.”

(Update, Oct. 10: The Harris campaign has published a list online of more than 100 bundlers who have raised at least $25,000 for her campaign.)

The 16 organizations that signed this new letter are as follows:

Business for America National Institute on Money in Politics
Campaign Legal Center National Legal and Policy Center 
Center for Responsive Politics Open the Government 
Common Cause Project On Government Oversight
Issue One Public Citizen
League of Women Voters Represent.Us
Liberty Coalition Sunlight Foundation
MapLight Take Back Our Republic

 

The 23 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to whom this letter was sent are as follows:

Michael Bennet Tim Ryan
Joe Biden Bernie Sanders
Cory Booker Mark Sanford
Steve Bullock Joe Sestak
Pete Buttigieg Tom Steyer
Julian Castro Donald Trump
John Delaney Joe Walsh
Tulsi Gabbard Elizabeth Warren
Kamala Harris Bill Weld
Amy Klobuchar Marianne Williamson
Wayne Messam Andrew Yang
Beto O’Rourke  

 

Read the full letter here.