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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Politicians, Watchdog Groups Call For Supercommittee Transparency

Pressure is rising on the deficit reduction “Supercommittee” to operate with greater transparency as it seeks to slash more than $1 trillion from the budget this fall. The 12 members of the Supercommittee — who have received millions of dollars of contributions from special interests over the past five years — will be under intense pressure from lobbyists who hope to protect their favored targets from budget cuts.

One lobbyist told Politico that he was preparing to help clients survive Supercommittee cuts “by writing 12 really large checks.” Although most lobbyists won’t be that open about their intentions, it is clear that K Street — especially firms that represent the defense and medical industries, which figure to be prime targets for cuts — is preparing to mount a huge effort to influence the bipartisan group.

As a result, watchdogs are intensifying their efforts to shed light on the negotiations. A group of 14 good government organizations wrote a joint letter to the members of the Supercommittee today, urging them to voluntarily disclose their contacts with lobbyists and to publicly report any campaign donations that they receive while they are in negotiations. The watchdog groups noted that most federally mandated disclosure reports covering the next three months — when the Supercommittee will be working on the deficit reduction deal — won’t become available to the public until mid-January. By this time it would be far too late to protect the negotiations from being compromised.

“Failure to ensure transparency of these fundamental avenues of influence will reinforce the public’s mistrust of the process and risks delegitimizing the committee’s work,” the groups wrote in the joint letter.

Some politicians are joining in the calls for greater transparency. Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa,) Michael Quigley (D-Illinois) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) crossed party lines last week to introduce the Deficit Committee Transparency Act. The bill calls for the Supercommittee to create a website where any campaign contribution or meetings with lobbyists would have to be reported within 48 hours.

The House bill is similar to the Supercommittee Sunshine Act, which was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) in early August. Vitter’s bill would require that Supercommittee members report any contributions of over $1,000 within 48 hours.

“[The Supercommittee members] have before them only everything in the federal budget and everything in the U.S. tax code,” Vitter says. “It’s enormous power, it’s an enormous role, and obviously everybody in Washington, D.C., and beyond, every special interest, is going to be lobbying them.”

Although Loebsack says that neither party’s leadership has responded to his proposal yet, his message seems to be reaching at least some of the Supercommittee members; earlier this week Senator John Kerry (D-Massachussetts) told the Boston Globe that he would suspend his fundraising while he serves on the Supercommittee. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has also canceled fundraisers.

Other committee members like Reps. Dave Camp (R-Michigan) and Xavier Becerra (D-California) have refused to alter their established fundraising schedules, however.

Perhaps it is unfair to expect the members of the Supercommittee to completely halt their fundraising while they negotiate the budget deal; as Becerra has pointed out, House members must finance a new campaign every two years, so three months of fundraising could be the difference in a tight election. There is no potent reason that the Supercommittee members should decline to disclose their contributions and meetings with lobbyists, however. The members are in a position of massive power, and the American public has a right to know whether their representatives are serving their interests, or the interests of lobbyists and corporate donors.

Furthermore, it is in the Supercommittee members’ own interests to increase the transparency of the negotiating process. The American public does not like or trust Congress in the wake of the disastrous debt ceiling negotiations. If the committee tries to pass a crooked deal in November, then its members will almost certainly face the wrath of constituents the next time they come up for reelection.