Now it's `bundlers,' not `fat cats'

Duane B. Garrett has 3,700 names on his Rolodex. They are ``proven contributors to some sort of worthy Democratic cause or institution.'' Almost all of them are Californians, says Mr. Garrett, a San Francisco lawyer, art merchant, and top moneymaker for the Democrats.

Garrett and others like him are known in the campaign business as ``bundlers.'' They are people who, knowing how to collect money from a wide variety of sources, deliver a neat bundle of checks to the candidate they are backing. The emergence of bundlers is a direct result of changes in federal election laws in the mid-1970s. Before then, a few ``fat cats'' channeled millions of dollars of personal wealth into campaigns. But the Federal Election Commission Act disrupted that practice, requiring full disclosure of campaign funds and putting a $1,000 ceiling on individual contributions for federal office seekers.

The niche formerly occupied by the fat cats is now being filled by the bundlers - who have become hot commodities on the campaign scene, say experts who study campaign finance.

The campaign organization of Bruce Babbitt counts it a coup to have recruited Garrett to help the former Arizona governor in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Garrett is a top name in campaign finance for the Democrats, having raised about $14 million in $1,000-or-smaller contributions since 1981.

But California is more than just a money base for candidates, Garrett says. He explains, ``It's unlikely anyone will have enough delegates to wrap up the nomination prior to the California primary [next June]. The candidates will be paying attention to issues that are important to Californians.''

Some political observers say the emphasis on fund raising may be tied to voters' increasing disenchantment with politics.

``The vast sums of money [spent on campaigns] may have helped to alienate people from the political process,'' says Tracy Westen, executive director of the California Commission on Campaign Financing. ``A lot of people are just saying, `Forget it. Other people are buying their way into the political process, but I can't, so let's just go surfing'.''

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