A Bundle From Virginia
By Erika Niedowski, CQ Staff Writer
The little-known Madison Project, a conservative political action committee (PAC) based in Northern Virginia that operates with a staff of two, managed to pump nearly $20,000 into the Jan. 13 special election in California's 22nd District, even though federal election laws limit a PAC to $5,000 in direct contributions to a candidate.
This was not a violation of election law; the Madison Project simply "bundled" individual checks received from some of its 6,000 members. The checks came in response to an urgent plea from the Madison Project's chairman, Michael Farris, on behalf of the social conservative candidate in the 22nd District, state Rep. Tom Bordonaro.
Reformers argue that, because there are no limits on the overall amount a conduit group may collect and pass on to the candidate, bundling essentially allows PACs and corporations to circumvent election law. But bundlers say they are simply matching donors with like-minded candidates.
"We're just providing information to our members, letting them know about candidates around the country who share their beliefs," said Timmy Teepell, the Madison Project's executive director. "Then our members choose to give money. This isn't the $20,000 [or] $30,000 donors, these are just regular people who can give $10."
Farris' appeal for Bordonaro told members that the "Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., is supporting [Bordonaro's] pro-abortion, pro-homosexual primary opponent, Brooks Firestone [but] if you and I provide Tom with the funds he needs to counter the establishment's involvement, Tom can win."
The $20,000 boost that resulted represented a substantial fraction of the $131,700 that Bordonaro's campaign reported having received by late December. Most of the money spent in the race came from independent groups that were beyond the candidates' control. But Bordonaro was free to spend the Madison Project money as he wished.
"Every little bit made a difference in that race," said Teepell.
The comparatively new Madison Project gathered checks in similar fashion in 1994 for Republican House candidates such as Andrea Seastrand in California's 22nd District and Mark W. Neumann in Wisconsin's 1st. But other groups have been bundling since the campaign finance laws of the 1970s limited contributions.
The Council for a Livable World, a nuclear arms control lobbying group, first bundled checks in 1962, sending contributions to an obscure Democratic Senate candidate from South Dakota named George McGovern.
By 1996, EMILY's List, which funds candidates who support abortion rights, had perfected the practice to the tune of $6.7 million (in addition to the $13.6 million that political action committee contributed to political candidates itself).
"Bundling has kind of come out of the closet," said Mark Buse, an aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain's campaign finance legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, D-Wis., originally made bundled amounts count toward a PAC's overall limit. But that provision was dropped when the two senators were trying to attract more support for the legislation late in 1997.
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.