Thursday, September 22, 2011

Better Know a Super Committee

Crossposted at MyDD.

Super committee member Xavier Becerra (D-CA) says everything should be on the table, and that there are "no sacred cows" as they scramble to cut $1.5 trillion from the deficit (jobs!).  No sacred cows except their campaign contributions and contact with lobbyists as they meet, that is.

Watchdogs have circled on that theme hoping to pressure members to voluntarily disclose campaign donations and contacts with lobbyists.  Politico:
[...] a coalition of government reform and transparency organizations are demanding that supercommittee members voluntarily disclose their committee-related contacts with lobbyists and publicly report any campaign donations within 48 hours of receiving them.

The groups note in the letter that most federally mandated lobbying and campaign finance disclosure reports covering October, November and December – when the supercommittee is slated to conduct the bulk of its work – won’t become public until mid-January.

“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 14 groups wrote in a joint letter being sent this afternoon to the dozen supercommittee members. “Your critical work on this committee has begun, and yet the public remains in the dark about special interests’ attempts to influence your decision-making process, whether by meeting with you or donating to your campaigns.”
According to Politico only three committee members have agreed to halt fundraising while the committee meets, but so far none have agreed to voluntarily disclose important details about contacts.  Lobbyists see the opportunity here with the concentration of power and no mandate for disclosure until it's too late.  The Sunlight Foundation is hoping that changes with H.R.2860, the Deficit Committee Transparency Act.  Sunlight's Ellen Miller, via email:
Without transparency around this process, we don’t know who the committee members are listening to. But we can take a guess: Money speaks louder than words in Washington.

The committee members could easily take measures to increase transparency on their own: Disclosing their campaign contributions and meetings with lobbyists or powerful interests in real-time would be one way. But while the Committee has at least taken steps to have a few open meetings, it’s business as usual when it comes to campaign fundraising and secret meetings with powerful special interests.

This legislation can change that, but it needs your help. The bill has been introduced, but it needs cosponsors to gain momentum while it still counts -- the Super Committee has already started its work, and it has to make its recommendations by December, right around the corner.

Open the Super Congress. Ask your representatives to cosponsor the Super Congress transparency bill!
I sat in on a conference call with Sunlight policy wonks and staffers from  sponsor Rep. Loebsack's office last week that detailed the bill and the campaign.  Recording posted here.

Most of us are hoping this committee, like the Catfood Commission, just goes away.  But their recommendations in December might not.  Without this legislation, details on who influenced the committee won't drop until it's too late.  This may be an atypical disclosure ask, but this is an atypical committee about to make recommendations that could effect programs like Medicare and Social Security for the next generation.

Call your reps.

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