On Tuesday, Mitt Romney sounded a clarion call for renewed economic freedom and an end to the kind of Washington cronyism that funnels taxpayer money to friends and donors. The speech, which was delivered in Irwin, Pa., is being hailed as one of his best of this campaign.
But slowing down the velocity of Romney’s message is the fact that his team has refused to release the names of all of his bundlers—those valued fundraisers who round up the maximum allowable contributions from individuals ($2,500) and can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign. Indeed, on Monday, Romney senior campaign adviser Ed Gillespie said they have no plans to ever reveal the names of the candidate’s bundlers.
The reason this matters is because big-money bundlers don’t just receive invitations to White House social events or even the occasional ambassadorship. They also use that access to leverage lucrative government contracts and loans.
Consider, for example, the company of one of President Obama’s biggest donors: DreamWorks. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg's studio, along with several others, is now under investigaton by the Securities Exchange Commission on allegations of possible illegal payments to help persuade Chinese officials to open up film and movie markets. Helping arrange the high-level meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was Vice President Joe Biden. (Dreamworks, along with the other studios under investigation, has declined public comment on the matter thus far).
It’s not just meetings; big-money donors can also bag billions in government-backed loans. Indeed, $16.4 billion of the Department of Energy’s $20.5 billion loan program went to companies either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers—individuals who were bundlers, members of Obama’s National Finance Committee, or large donors to the Democratic Party.
The only reason we know any of these crony connections is because then-candidate Obama, under pressure from his 2008 primary challenger Hillary Clinton, agreed to release the names of his bundlers and has continued the practice this cycle as well. This type of transparency is vital, because big-money campaign donors get far more than White House trinkets and photo ops—they often haul in boatloads of taxpayer dollars for their companies and investors.
While we don’t know all of Romney’s big-dollar fundraisers, we do know some of them through news reports and because election laws require lobbyists who fundraise to publicly disclose their activities. For example, Robert Diamond is a Romney bundler. Diamond, who is the former CEO of Barclays, resigned earlier this month amid the growing LIBOR scandal and has since pulled out of a July 28 London fundraising event he was to co-host.
Another event to be hosted in London involves Romney bundler Patrick Durkin, a registered lobbyist for Barclays. Durkin, who has raised $1.1 million for the Romney campaign, is one of 13 co-chairs for the dinner, which includes a $25,000 to $75,000 private dinner with Romney.
Presently, we know that 34 of Romney’s bundlers are lobbyists and that collectively they have raised more than $5.2 million. If Romney released all of the names of his bundlers, voters and watchdog groups would gain a clearer picture of where the candidate’s alliances lie and which corporate interests feel they have something to gain from a Romney presidency. Furthermore, if he is elected, knowing who his bundlers are would allow journalists and others to track down instances of cronyism or misallocation of taxpayer dollars to politically connected insiders.
If Romney wants the transparency and anti-cronyism themes to catch fire, he needs to do the right thing and release the names of his bundlers.