THIS COULD be the first presidential campaign since Watergate to be financed entirely with private funds. The two major--party nominees alone may raise and spend $1 billion combined. Under these circumstances, the inadequacy of campaign finance disclosure rules becomes even more glaring.
While campaigns are required to report the names of individuals who contribute the maximum $2,300, they don't have to provide the really important information: Who are the well-connected fundraisers helping them bring in big bundles of cash? That's why we've been suggesting that the presidential candidates should release voluntarily the identities of their big bundlers and, within some range, the amounts they raised. In the past few days, two leading contenders, Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani, agreed to provide such disclosure. They join Democrat Barack Obama and Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney, who had already made that promise.
You may have noticed one prominent figure absent from this picture: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ms. Clinton, who raised almost $40 million for her Senate reelection campaign, has assembled a formidable fundraising machine. Her campaign is tasking its biggest bundlers with bringing in $1 million or more. Her campaign solicits "Hillraisers" to enlist online and set their own fundraising goals. In other words, the campaign is fully aware of how much individual fundraisers collect on its behalf. But voters remain in the dark about the identities of those to whom candidate Clinton -- or President Clinton -- might be beholden.
To ask for this information is not to suggest malfeasance or corruption on the part of Ms. Clinton's campaign or any other. It is simply to reassert the fundamental premise of campaign finance disclosure: that it is essential to a healthy, transparent system to know the identities of those underwriting political candidates. No one would accept a system in which donors could secretly write $1 million checks to candidates. No one should accept a system in which fundraisers can secretly send candidates $1 million they've collected in other people's checks.
During the 2000 campaign, when George W. Bush developed what seemed at the time like an audacious system of fundraisers known as Pioneers, who collected at least $100,000, his campaign balked for a time at releasing the names, then agreed to disclose them. This is one area in which Ms. Clinton would be wise to follow the model of the president she hopes to succeed.