THE DEMOCRATIC National Committee has wisely abandoned its plan to keep secret the names of the party's "trustees," fundraisers who bring in $250,000 or more for the party and its presidential nominee, and "Patriots," who raise at least $100,000. Yesterday, it released a list of almost 200 such bundlers, including former vice president Al Gore and the brother and former brother-in-law of Sen. John F. Kerry. There were big-name lobbyists such as Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., John D. Raffaelli, Peter Knight and John Merrigan; financial world barons such as Alan Patricof, Stan Shuman, Hassan Nemazee and Orin Kramer; and an array of other party stalwarts, from such Washington types as Beth Dozoretz and Elizabeth and Smith Bagley to such Hollywood figures as Larry and Laurie David and "Power Rangers" producer Haim Saban. Trial lawyers were particularly well-represented: They accounted for six of the 17 trustees.
Now that the parties have to make do without the big "soft money" checks to which they had become addicted, these men and women represent the parties' financial backbone. They have the capability not just to write checks for the new maximum donation, $25,000, but, more important, to plumb the networks of others who can do the same. While such bundlers have always been important political players, their value is greatly enhanced this year. Indeed, one of the interesting features of yesterday's Democratic list is that while a number of those on the roster were significant soft-money givers in the past, some of the biggest former soft-money players were absent. Of the top 10 individual Democratic soft-money donors in 2001-2002, only two -- Mr. Saban and Loral Corp. Chairman Bernard L. Schwartz -- made the bundling list, Mr. Saban as a trustee.
The increased significance of these bundlers is the reason we've pressed for such disclosure to be required, of the parties and of candidates, and, in the absence of such rules, for voluntary release of this critical information. Both President Bush and Mr. Kerry provide this information; the Republican National Committee, which has launched a "Super Rangers" program for those who bring in at least $300,000 by Aug. 15, says it will post those names after that deadline. The Democratic National Committee had originally said it would not list its big backers; now that it has reversed course, it would be nice to have equivalent information from the RNC as well, rather than simply the very top tier of $300,000 bundlers. This underscores the need for disclosure governed not by the cute names and arbitrary limits chosen by parties and candidates but by a mandatory, uniform regime that ensures full reporting of the campaign finance information that matters most.