Bundling: In politics, the term refers to the convoluted practice of combining many small contributions from individuals and political action committees (PACs) into one large contribution that are then funneled to a candidate through a “conduit,” generally a corporate executive or a lobbyist who, of course, expects something in return.
In more familiar personal injury attorney parlance, that would be known as a “runner,” a practice widely frowned upon and one which has cost some attorneys their licenses to practice law. In the almost anything goes rules of politics, bundling exists on the dark fringes of ethical practices yet remains legal, legal being a relative term at best.
Many political candidates now participate in bundling but sometimes it can backfire as in the case of textile importer-fugitive Norman Hsu who bundled $800,000 in contributions for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
And in the case of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who claims to have donated to a charity a $1,000 contribution from the Louisiana Chitimacha Indian Tribe that was bundled by an associate of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), bundling at best, would seem to block transparency and at worst, raise serious ethics questions.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations require that whenever a corporate executive or lobbyist physically touches a bundled contribution and delivers money to a campaign the bundler, as well as the original contributor, must be publicly disclosed in the campaign’s FEC reports. If the bundler does not come into physical contact with the checks, he/she is not required to be disclosed to the public as the conduit source of the contribution. It’s not clear as to how physical contact is monitored.
One way to recognize bundling is when several employees of a company or members of a PAC, in efforts to get around limitations on giving, pool their contributions which then show up more often than not as identical amounts on the same dates or on dates that are clustered together.
Plainly and simply, bundling is employed as a method to circumvent campaign finance laws and some do it better than others.
Take Tony Rudy, for example.
Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds (ever wonder why Jindal vetoed the 4-cent cigarette tax renewal?), Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, Dupont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).
Not only was bundling done on a wholesale basis on Jindal’s behalf, but identical contributions by individuals and committees, many on the same dates totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, routinely appeared in separate reports filed by candidate Jindal, the Committee to Re-elect Bobby Jindal, and Friends of Bobby Jindal, Inc. Contributions ranged from $500 to $5,000.
That’s six separate reports on which the same contributors from Rudy’s exclusive client list appeared.
Other former clients of Alexander Strategy Group included Time Warner, Freddie Mac, Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, AT&T, Blackwater USA, and Enron.
Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and another powerful lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, became known.
Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.
One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.
He said the same thing nearly two years ago, however, about $10,000 in campaign contributions from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, recently convicted in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Jindal press secretary Kyle Plotkin said Rothstein’s contribution would be given to a victim’s compensation fun “once one is created.” That was in November of 2009 but a check of Jindal campaign expenditures has revealed no such donation.
Besides clients of Alexander Strategy Group, other contributors that appeared on more than one of the Jindal contributor lists included Goldman Sachs, BP Corp., ExxonMobil, CH2M Hill, Chevron, Hospital Corp. of America, Northrop Grumman, Entergy, Citigroup, BlueCross/Blue Shield, Albemarle, Wal-Mart, Lorillard Tobacco, Pfizer, and others.