Group Seeks the Names of Edwards' Backers

*The candidate's campaign declines to identify its top fundraisers, who one watchdog calls 'the new power brokers.'

By Lisa Getter, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON â€" A campaign finance watchdog group on Thursday called on North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to release the names of his top presidential fundraisers before Super Tuesday â€" a request the Edwards campaign said it would decline.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics said it sent a letter to Edwards after he and his staff declined to respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails seeking the names of those supporters who have collected the most donations for his presidential campaign.

"We're not releasing any names. That's our policy," said Edwards' campaign spokesperson Kim Rubey.

Campaign disclosure laws do not require candidates to reveal the names of their top fundraisers.

But President Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential front-runner, have released the names of supporters who have raised at least $50,000 in individual donations.

Because of changes in campaign finance law, some candidates now rely on lobbyists and business leaders to help collect contributions of as much as $2,000 per candidate per election. When bundled, these contributions can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said he thought the names of top fundraisers should be made public in the presidential race because of their potential influence in the White House. He calls them "the new power brokers."

"These are people who are going to be wielding a certain amount of influence if Sen. Edwards becomes president. We feel the public has a right to know who these people are," Noble said.

"… As you and others have said during the presidential campaign, special interests have enormous clout in Washington," the letter stated. "One measure of that clout is the amount of money individuals associated with a particular interest group contribute to campaigns."

The Edwards campaign said it did not plan to release the names of its top fundraisers because it didn't raise money the way the Bush campaign did.

The Bush campaign has rewarded its top fundraisers with special parties and access to the president or his top aides.

"We don't systematically raise our money in that fashion," Rubey said. She emphasized that the campaign was not accepting donations from registered federal lobbyists or from political action committees.

When asked, however, if anyone had raised more than $50,000 for the Edwards campaign, Rubey said she would have to check.

Jennifer Palmieri, another Edwards spokeswoman, said the campaign did not have an organized program in which supporters were bundling contributions for the senator's campaign.

"Sen. Edwards does not have a bundling fund-raising program similar to Bush's 'Pioneers' or 'Rangers' programs," Palmieri said. She cited compliance with other disclosure rules about donors and reiterated his refusal to accept money from lobbyists.

The Bush campaign lists on its website 165 "Rangers" â€" those supporters who have raised at least $200,000 for the president's reelection â€" and 251 "Pioneers," those who have brought in at least $100,000.

The Kerry campaign last October named 32 fundraisers who had collected $100,000 and 87 who had raised at least $50,000. In doing so, Kerry said he was trying to "improve transparency" in his campaign.

"I hope that every presidential candidate will show their commitment to transparency by releasing the same information from their campaigns," Kerry said at the time.


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