When Barack Obama was running for the presidency in 2008—and later for reelection in 2012—he promised he wouldn't take money from registered lobbyists, not even as bundlers. In the race to succeed him, Hillary Clinton is not following in his footsteps.
The former secretary of state raised more than $2 million from 40 "bundlers"—fundraisers who get their contacts to give to campaigns—who were also lobbyists, according to financial forms released Wednesday by the Federal Election Commission. In all, the Clinton campaign raised $46.7 million between the beginning of April and the end of June.
Bundlers, who are often wealthy or well-connected individuals, do more than donate to campaigns. They put their social networks to work for favorite candidates, persuading (often equally wealthy and well-connected) family members, friends, colleagues, and other contacts to donate as well, effectively bringing in far more money than they could under the current legal donation limits. Individuals can contribute $2,700 to candidate committees (as opposed to super PACS) for the primary election and the same amount for the general election, for a total of $5,400 in a campaign cycle. Campaigns don't have to disclose their bundlers—unless those bundlers are also lobbyists.
Clinton's bundlers include some familiar names: Jerry Crawford, an outside lobbyist to Monsanto and Iowa kingmaker, put together another $35,000 or so. Tony Podesta, a mega-lobbyist who co-founded the Podesta Group and is the brother of Clinton's campaign chair John, bundled almost $75,000.
John Podesta himself previewed the open-for-lobbying-donations strategy back in April, telling PBS' Charlie Rose show, "I think that our judgment was we will take money if it's legal, obviously" because of how much opponents were raising. "So, we're going to raise the resources that are necessary," he said.
Other bundlers lobby for big companies including Microsoft (Fred Humphries) and Exxon Mobil (Theresa Fariello) or industry groups including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (Daphna Peled). Another group includes former staffers for prominent Democratic politicians (including President Clinton) and politicians themselves, including former South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges. Lobbyist bundlers don't have to disclose their employers, but the names appear on both Clinton's disclosures and 2015 lobbyist registrations.
Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said in an email that 94 percent of the more than 250,000 donors to Clinton's campaign gave $250 or less. "Regardless of the size of their donation, the people who support Hillary’s campaign know that’s what she’s fighting for—working to ensure we have an economy that works for all Americans and not just those at the top, one that allows everyday Americans to get ahead and stay ahead," Schwerin wrote.
Exxon didn't immediately request for comment. The NCTA and Microsoft declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Monsanto said Crawford's law firm has multiple clients. "I don't think it's fair to isolate his experience to working with us," she said. Monsanto, however, is Crawford's only lobbying client, according to filings, a relationship that dates to at least 2009.
Crawford, who has supported the Clintons since 1992, said he has not and does not intend to lobby Clinton on behalf of Monsanto. "I support Hillary now because I have no doubt she would be the best President of the United States our country could have," he wrote in an email.
Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton super-PAC, wrote Thursday in an e-mail that the disclosures are "just the latest in a long line of instances where Clinton has been forthcoming in releasing key information to help voters make informed decisions."
In April, a campaign spokesman, Jesse Ferguson, said Clinton "supports campaign finance reform and has voted for tough lobbying reform, but as long as Republican groups and candidates are going to spend millions attacking Hillary, we need the resources to fight back," according to the Huffington Post.
Clinton was the only Democrat running for president to have declared lobbyist bundlers as of Thursday. Two Republicans candidates, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also filed disclosures on lobbyist bundlers, with Bush raising more than $228,000 from eight lobbyist bundlers and Rubio raising more than $133,000 from three lobbyist bundlers.
Lobbyist participation in a campaign can be hard to avoid: Despite President Obama's promise, the New York Times found in 2011 that at least 15 of his bundlers had strong links to lobbyists, including "overseeing" them, even if they weren't registered themselves.