FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT:John Bonifaz or Bonnie Tenneriello,
National Voting Rights Institute, (617) 368-9100
Adam Lioz, U.S. PIRG, (202) 546-9707
Stephanie Wilson, Fannie Lou Hamer Project, (269) 349-9760
David Swanson, ACORN, (202) 547-2500 or (202) 329-7847
Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice, (512) 472-9770
LAWSUIT UNEARTHES NEW DETAILS ABOUT BUSH CAMPAIGN’S FUNDRAISING PRACTICES IN 2000 ELECTION
BUSH CAMPAIGN DESIGNED TRACKING NUMBER SYSTEM
TO GIVE CREDIT TO BUSH PIONEERS
EXPERT ANALYSIS REVEALS ADDITIONAL NAMES
OF 312 BUSH PIONEERS
LIST INCLUDES 44 EXECUTIVES FROM ENERGY INDUSTRY
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A major lawsuit challenging provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law has unearthed a series of documents revealing new and surprising information about the campaign fundraising practices of President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which is challenging the constitutionality of the hard money increases in the new law, released today previously-sealed documents obtained via a subpoena from the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign during the discovery process in the case. Lawyers for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign initially sought to keep the documents under seal before a special three-judge federal court in Washington, but they ultimately backed down after the plaintiffs threatened a court battle.
“These documents further expose the Bush campaign’s fundraising machine in the 2000 election,” says Craig McDonald, an expert witness for the plaintiffs and director of Texans for Public Justice, a research organization that has tracked Bush’s fundraising since his gubernatorial days. “They also demonstrate that the Bush campaign may still be hiding critical information from the American public about its Pioneer program.”
The Bush campaign’s Pioneer program is widely viewed as critical to the campaign’s ability to raise an unprecedented $100 million in hard money in the 2000 presidential election. Under the Pioneer program, participants pledged to bundle together $1,000 checks from family members, friends, and associates, with most Pioneers pledging to raise at least $100,000 in hard money. Members of the Pioneer network enjoyed special access to Bush as a candidate and many were rewarded with government appointments, including the appointment of 19 Pioneers as U.S. ambassadors to countries from Austria to Uruguay. Funds from the Pioneers helped Bush shove other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, such as Elizabeth Dole and Lamar Alexander, off the playing field, and allowed him to greatly outspend rivals such as John McCain.
Highlights of the new documents released today and examined by the plaintiffs’ expert McDonald include:
- The Bush campaign had an additional 312 previously unknown Bush Pioneers, bringing the new total to 538 disclosed Pioneer fundraisers. The additional Pioneers include at least 44 executives from the energy and natural resources industry.
- The Bush campaign designed a tracking number system to keep an accounting of the money being raised and assigned a tracking number to each Pioneer. The tracking numbers appeared on checks submitted to the campaign or on documents identifying the individual donors.
- John L. Oliver III, the national finance director for the Bush campaign, admitted under oath at his deposition: “[I]f you raised $100,000, it was credited to your number. That was how you were made a Pioneer.”
- Bush Pioneer Thomas R. Kuhn, the president of Edison Electric – the DC-based lobbying firm for the electric utility industry – wrote a letter on Bush exploratory committee stationary in May 1999 urging industry associates to use a specific tracking number to ensure that their industry “is credited.” The Kuhn letter cites campaign officials Oliver and Donald Evans as emphasizing “the importance of having our industry incorporate the #1178 tracking number in your fundraising efforts.”
- Bush campaign attorneys claim they cannot locate an accounting of the total amount of money raised by each Pioneer.
- Topping the super Pioneer list are business partners William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds who shared the same Pioneer tracking number and raised over $600,000 for the campaign. DeWitt and Reynolds bailed out Bush’s oil company in 1984 and invested in the Texas Rangers venture that made Bush a multimillionaire.
- The Bush campaign credited 21 super Pioneers (or partnerships in which two or three participants shared one Pioneer tracking number) with raising more than $200,000 each.
Federal campaign finance law previously limited individual contributions to a federal candidate to $1,000 per election. The McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, doubles that amount in all federal races, and increases the level up to $12,000 per individual in certain races involving self-funded candidates. Hard money accounts for more than 80 percent of the funds raised by federal candidates and parties and comes predominantly from the wealthiest one percent of the nation’s population.
The plaintiffs challenging the hard money increases in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act point out that, under the increases, bundlers like the Bush Pioneers will be able to double, or multiply further, the amount of hard money they can raise from wealthy donors.
“These documents reveal the disproportionate power gained by those who can bundle huge sums of hard money for political campaigns,” says John C. Bonifaz, the executive director of the National Voting Rights Institute and an attorney for the plaintiffs. “With the hard money increases in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, elite donors such as the Bush Pioneers will achieve a stranglehold over the electoral process and ordinary voters will be locked out. This offends the basic constitutional promise of political equality for all.”
The plaintiffs, who include non-wealthy voters, candidates, and public interest groups, argue that, like the poll tax and high candidate filing fee systems previously struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the hard money increases operate as a new barrier to their equal participation in the political process.
“I cannot gather $1,000 checks for a political campaign,” says Stephanie L. Wilson, the executive director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The hard money increases in the McCain-Feingold reform law will enable people like the Bush Pioneers to drown out my voice in the political process.”
“Under the hard money increases, candidates without access to wealth cannot possibly compete against opponents backed by networks of wealthy donors,” says Adam Lioz, Democracy Advocate for the United States Public Interest Research Group, another plaintiff in the case. “If allowed to stand, these increases will effectively reduce our elections to contests between the super-wealthy and the well-connected. The rest of us will be left out in the cold.”
“How in the world are the voices of the poor able to be heard when we double the influence of people like the Bush Pioneers?,” asks Victoria Fitzgerald, president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of ACORN, a poor people’s advocacy organization and another plaintiff. “These hard money increases undermine the value of my vote.”
On December 4 and 5, 2002, a special three judge federal court in Washington heard oral argument on the plaintiffs’ case, along with all other constitutional challenges to the new law. Unlike the other lawsuits, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit support the ban on soft money but challenge the hard money increases on equal protection grounds. A decision on all of the consolidated lawsuits is expected soon and will likely be reviewed on an expedited basis by the Supreme Court.
The Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, which specializes in campaign finance litigation, serves as the lead counsel for the plaintiffs. The Washington, D.C. office of Hale and Dorr LLP serves as local counsel.