Keeping 'bundlers' hidden

Surprise, surprise. The Federal Election Commission has weakened a new law intended to provide greater disclosure of fund-raisers who "bundle" campaign donations of more than $15,000 for candidates.

The FEC adopted a new regulation that allows lobbyists to remain anonymous as bundlers unless the candidate keeps written records or provides the lobbyist with a specific benefit in exchange for the money. That decision runs counter to the law passed by Congress last year, with the support of President-elect Obama, to "provide for the broadest possible disclosure" of bundling activities.

Bundlers are gaining more insider influence each year, which is why the law intended to shed more light on the practice. The FEC should seek to enforce that ideal, not to water it down.

Tracking the bailout

When you give money to a beggar in the street, you hope it will be put to good use. The same hope applies to the nation's banks that have received a handout from taxpayers.

But how can you tell?

The Associated Press recently asked 21 banks that have received at least $1 billion from the U.S. Treasury what they had done with the money - and not one offered a specific reply.

It appears that in the rush to help the banks, oversight got the short shrift. The money is supposed to be used to loosen up credit, but there is no accounting to tell whether that's happening.

Add that to the other troubling news that banks receiving bailouts handed out $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and other benefits to 600 executives before the bottom fell out.

Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, who chairs a congressional committee overseeing the bailout, says she plans to get some answers about how taxpayer money is being spent. Still, she says, she is surprised she even has to ask. So are we.

The Antarctic trek he loved

Anyone walking the bone-chilling streets of Philadelphia earlier this week can only imagine the 700-mile trek Gladwyne businessman Todd Carmichael made to reach the South Pole last week.

Carmichael crossed Antarctica alone, on foot, pulling a sled of supplies in temperatures that reached 35 degrees below zero. It took him 39 days to complete the journey - a new record.

Part of the reason for Carmichael's trip was to conduct scientific reporting on global warming. His other motivation: "I do it because I love it," Carmichael said.

The co-owner of Philadelphia-based La Colombe Torrefaction coffee company may need a few refills of his fine java to warm up upon his return.

Kudos on an impressive feat of mental and physical strength.

Rethinking Nader's appeal

A Pennsylvania appeals court may have gotten the law exactly right in rebuffing former presidential candidate Ralph Nader's legal challenge over an $81,000 bill for court costs. But it just doesn't seem fair.

There's no question that Nader campaign supporters scuttled their own candidate's chances of making the 2004 Pennsylvania ballot. They filed nominating petitions with signatures from the likes of Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone and other fictitious signers.

But State Attorney General Tom Corbett has since indicted a dozen Harrisburg Democratic operatives for drawing state salaries - paid as bonuses - while waging the court battle over the petitions of Nader and other candidates. But for the petition challenge, Nader wouldn't have been assessed court costs.

In rejecting Nader's latest appeal, Commonwealth Court focused solely on the shoddy petition effort by his campaign. Since there was "wanton deficiency" in the petitions, Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter says Nader still owes the money even if the petition challenge was tangled up in the so-called bonusgate scandal.

Nader has asked for a well-deserved review of the decision, and that gives the courts another chance to make this right somehow. Otherwise, it will appear that Nader - whatever the petition-gathering bungling by his campaign - is being made to pay dearly for others' alleged criminal deeds.

Get it right

It's difficult to argue with a recent independent consultant's report that concluded Valley Forge visitors would be confused by building the proposed $375 million American Revolution Center (ARC) across the Schuylkill from the main Valley Forge National Historical Park visitor center.

That's why the preferred location for the state-of-the-art museum would be within the park, rather than on a 78-acre private tract along hard-to-access Pawlings Road in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County.

With ARC officials hoping to move ahead on their plans, though, the consultant's report stands as a useful reminder that it's extremely important to coordinate visitor programs with the National Park Service in order to minimize any confusion.

That cooperative spirit will benefit both the park and museum.

Toys for Tots' top season

Tens of thousands of kids are playing with new toys today thanks much to you - the many loyal readers who responded to a call to help this year's flagging Toys for Tots campaign.

The annual effort led by the Marine Corps Reserve had collected half the number of toys compared with last year. The recession had reduced giving and increased the need.

But a story and advertisements in The Inquirer last week prompted an outpouring of giving. Instead of 20,000 toys the Marines received more than 50,000.

The toys helped put smiles on the faces of thousands of needy kids. That's the true spirit of the holidays.

Adolf Hitler who?

From the Dumb-and-Dumber department:

Heath and Deborah Campbell of Hunterdon County, N.J., created an international furor when they sought an apology from the local ShopRite for refusing to decorate a birthday cake with the name of their 3-year-old son. His name: Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Now the parents are growing weary of the worldwide attention they initiated, including a death threat mailed to the wrong Campbell family. Heath Campbell said he's finally starting to believe Hitler did perpetrate the Holocaust, but he still has no intention of changing his child's name.

"I'm sorry if I hurt the world, but it's just a name to us," he told the Express-Times newspaper. It's also a needless stigma for a little boy.

Fighting for health care

How many former CEOs of a Fortune 500 company would take the unglamorous assignment to work behind the scenes on Gov. Rendell's ambitious but arcane health-care initiatives to cover the uninsured, boost patient safety and reduce costs? So far, the list runs only to one: Rosemarie B. Greco, the former Philadelphia CoreStates banker now leaving the governor's staff after laboring six long years on this important agenda.

In her Office of Health Care Reform, Greco made substantial strides on patient safety, cost-reduction initiatives and - even though it was blocked by state Senate Republicans - toward advancing a solution for making health insurance accessible to all Pennsylvanians.

That's quite a track record, and Greco's ideas for covering the uninsured remain worthy of Senate approval. Good to hear Rendell this week pledge that Greco's crackerjack deputy, health-policy pro Ann Torregrossa, will take over and continue the fight for the uninsured.