McCain uses 'bundler' money more than Obama campaign

Republican John McCain's elite fundraisers have helped collect more than half of his presidential campaign money, while Democratic rival Barack Obama has relied on his own top fundraisers for nearly one-fifth of his coffers, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

More than 500 top McCain fundraisers brought in at least $75.6 million, or about 53% of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's receipts through June.

Obama, who also counts more than 500 people among his main fundraising corps, has collected at least $50.1 million through them. That's about 17% of the presumptive Democratic nominee's receipts through May. He has not released June totals.

The money from these fundraisers illustrates how McCain, who co-authored a 2002 law curbing the influence of special interests in campaign finance, is relying on a group of well-connected Republicans to fuel his bid. It also demonstrates that Obama has turned to wealthy donors to help collect cash — even though the bulk of his donations are from contributors who give $200 or less.

"This really proves how enormously valuable it is to have a network of fundraisers out there shaking the bushes for you," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. "For McCain, who wants to project an image as a maverick on reform, it is precisely the wrong message to be so reliant on this tiny set of well-heeled donors."

These elite fundraisers are known as "bundlers" because they collect money from friends, family and business associates. Among those raising money for McCain: developer Donald Trump, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos and former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio. Obama's team includes Vogue editor Anna Wintour, entertainment executive David Geffen and Ned Lamont, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Connecticut.

Both campaigns insist they are not beholden to bundlers. "The people that are supporting John McCain do so because they think he will be the best president," his spokesman, Brian Rogers, said.

Rod Pacheco, a district attorney in Riverside, Calif., has collected more than $50,000 for McCain. He said he did so because he admires the Vietnam War veteran who was a prisoner of war. "I don't ask for anything — other than to see him become president," he said.

Obama's bundlers "are people who want to help the campaign," and have no more influence on the candidate than any of the campaign's 1.7 million donors, said spokesman Nick Shapiro. He said 91% of donations came in chunks of $100 or smaller.

But Obama has boosted his high-dollar fundraising events since he clinched his party's nomination June 3. On Sunday, he raised $1.2 million at one Newport Beach, Calif., event.

Lamont and his venture capitalist wife, Ann, have raised more than $100,000 for Obama. Earlier this year, they hosted a $2,300-per-person reception in their home, featuring Obama's wife, Michelle. Lamont said it's logical that "a lot of institutional Democrats, who were either with another candidate or were keeping their powder dry, are jumping in with both feet" now that Obama is the Democratic standard-bearer.

Totals raised by each bundler were not released. USA TODAY used each candidate's newly updated list of bundlers, found on their campaign websites, to calculate the minimum amount each has collected from bundlers.

Obama groups bundlers in three broad categories: those who bring in at least $50,000, more than $100,000 and more than $200,000. Last week, he added the names of nearly 200 bundlers to his website, after receiving inquiries from The New York Times and after a letter went out to both candidates from several watchdog groups calling for greater disclosure.

On Monday, McCain added more than 400 names to his website and expanded the categories to identify bundlers who raised money in chunks of $50,000, more than $100,000, more than $250,000 and more than $500,000.

Because Obama doesn't provide details about bundlers who raise more than $500,000, "he may appear to be less reliant on these bundlers because he's less transparent about his numbers," Krumholz said. "It's highly likely he will have a signficantly higher percentage of money from bundlers, if and when he matches McCain's disclosures."