Campaign finance enters a new era

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Campaign analysts say one element of President Bush’s legacy is clear - his record-setting 2000 and 2004 campaigns changed the way candidates run for the White House.

“President Bush and his team brought the presidential financing system into the 21st century,” said Michael E. Toner, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who was nominated by Mr. Bush.

Campaign finance watchdog Craig Holman, a legislative representative for Public Citizen, said Mr. Bush perfected the fundraising technique of collecting, or “bundling,” small donations from many contributors to fulfill pledges to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Bundling, if it was done at all, was done by close friends of the candidate,” Mr. Holman said. “But Bush realized he could raise a lot more money from bundling than through public financing, and so he opted out of public financing in the primary.

“He was raising much more money this way. And it has since become a standard fundraising tool by all serious candidates.”

Mr. Bush’s bundlers, numbering in the hundreds, were singled out with special designations depending on how much money they raised. “Mavericks” were supporters younger than 40 who collected more than $50,000 in donations, while “pioneers” raised $100,000 and “rangers” gathered at least $200,000.

Mr. Bush’s strategy allowed him to tap large amounts of campaign cash at a time when federal election law prohibited large “soft money” contributions from businesses, unions and individuals.

The two analysts disagree on whether the fundraising technique makes for a positive legacy.

“What the Bush team did is create a culture of inclusion of people wanting to be involved on the fundraising side,” Mr. Toner said. “To involve that many people before on the fundraising side just hadn’t been done before.”

But Mr. Holman said the bundling system “has essentially killed off the public financing system when it comes to presidential campaigns.”

He also said about one out of five of Mr. Bush’s bundlers got some sort of government appointment during his administration.

In recent weeks, Mr. Holman’s group has been monitoring the appointments being given to bundlers to serve on President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team.

Even when his poll numbers were slipping late in his presidency, Mr. Bush never lost his knack for fundraising.

He raised record amounts for the Republican National Committee (RNC), including more than $147 million while attending 84 fundraising events for Republican candidates in 2008, according to the RNC.

“President Bush has always been very generous with his time for us and helped both the RNC and candidates across the country,” said RNC Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan.

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