It is the time to take a look at bundling. Not the colonial indoor sport, but the kind of bundling some of Washington's savviest political action committees have been engaging in. PACs can give only $5,000 to a candidate. But they can also "bundle" -- hand over in a package -- contributions, technically from individuals, which come out to much larger amounts. Alignpac, a PAC set up by insurance agents, was kind enough last year to bundle some $49,375 to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D- Ill.). It was even kinder to Sen. Bob Packwood (R- Ore.), who got bundled checks totaling $215,538. Some people will think that Alignpac bundled this money and sent it in to gain influence with the chairmen of Congress' two tax-writing committees. Others believe in the tooth fairy.
We know about bundling because it's legal and required to be disclosed by both the PAC doing the bundling and the candidate receiving the money. So there is a basis for judging whether there has been undue influence. But there is also an obvious end run here around the campaign finance laws. The $5,000 limit was imposed on PAC contributions in order to prevent any one source of funds from gaining too much influence or becoming too important to a politician. A PAC representative who walks, literally or figuratively, into a congressman's office with a rubber band around $215,000 of contributions is in a position to gain more influence and become more important to a politician than the campaign finance laws ever intended him to be.
The solution is the one proposed in Sen. David Boren's omnibus PAC bill, about some of whose other provisions we have doubts. Simply count all bundled contributions toward the PAC's $5,000 limit. This would effectively ban bundling. Those who bundle campaign contributions are sophisticated and knowledgeable about the campaign finance laws; they know just where the boundaries are; they are well advised by counsel.
Nor have they been making, publicly anyway, arguments in favor of bundling. For the normal arguments for PACs don't apply here. PACs help make democracy work, it is said; they encourage citizen participation in politics. But under Mr. Boren's provision they still would be entirely free to urge their members to send money to this or that candidate. They just couldn't package and deliver it themselves. PACs would still be free to use the political resources of their members to influence election outcomes. They just couldn't position themselves so conveniently to claim credit. There are a number of proposals for campaign finance reform floating around. The Boren anti-bundling provision should be part of any measure Congress passes.