The Influence Industry: Supercommittee members are lining up fundraisers

September 7, 2011

Just hours before the first organizational meeting of the budget-cutting “supercommittee,” Republican member Dave Camp was scheduled to hold a fundraiser for his congressional campaign.

The Wednesday night event for the Michigan congressman, at Fiola restaurant in downtown Washington, was hosted by several lobbyists and Pfizer PAC, the political-action committee for the pharmaceutical giant, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation. The cost was $5,000 for hosts and $2,500 for other attendees, the invite said.

Deputy editor, National politics View Archive

Camp is among at least nine members of the 12-member supercommittee who have scheduled fundraisers this fall, putting them in a position to take money from industry donors at the same time they are helping to decide what to cut from government spending.

Watchdog groups have launched a vocal campaign urging supercommittee members to abandon fundraising while the panel does its work. A bill introduced in the House on Wednesday by Reps. David Loebsack (D-Iowa), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and James B. Renacci (R-Ohio) would require supercommittee members to immediately disclose any lobbying contacts or campaign contributions while the panel is meeting.

“I think they should stop fundraising altogether right now,” said David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates public financing of elections. “The type of work and the scope of it speaks out for a different way of doing things. This should not be business as usual.”

The unusually powerful committee, comprising six Democrats and six Republicans from both chambers of Congress, is tasked with finding up to $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years by Thanksgiving. If no deal is reached, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board reductions in both defense and non-defense spending will phase in automatically.

The scale of the cuts has set off a frenzy among lobbyists on K Street, including nearly 100 identified by The Washington Post as former employees of supercommittee members.

Some lobbyists and trade groups are also hosting fundraisers such as the one benefiting Camp on Wednesday. A Camp spokeswoman declined to comment.

Five of the panel’s Democrats are linked to upcoming fundraisers, including at least three events for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the supercommittee’s co-chairman. A Murray spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The most active fundraiser on the panel appears to be Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has at least five donor events scheduled between now and the panel’s Thanksgiving deadline, according to the Sunlight Foundation tally. One is a “healthcare breakfast” scheduled for Tuesday, the day of the supercommittee’s first public hearing.

Clyburn spokeswoman Hope E. Derrick said all the fundraisers were scheduled prior to his appointment to the supercommittee, adding that “his motivation is doing what is in the country’s best interest, not the best interest of lobbyists or contributors.”

“As a member of the committee, he has clearly stated his priorities for achieving fairness through the process by utilizing a combination of job creation, spending cuts and revenue raisers,” Derrick said. “He considers that nothing is off the table and believes any specific proposals should be discussed directly with committee members during their negotiations.”

At least two panel members, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), have told reporters that they have ditched some fundraising plans after their appointments to the panel. Portman told the Cincinnati Enquirer this week that he had “canceled a bunch of events,” but he characterized it as a matter of scheduling rather than ethics.

“My approach on fundraising is pretty simple. I tell people where I stand, and if they want to vote for me or support me, that’s great, but it doesn’t work the other way around,” Portman said. “You don’t change your positions based on contributions.”

The supercommittee’s members, most of whom are veteran lawmakers, have received millions in contributions from major corporate PACs and industry groups over the past 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which tracks campaign donors. Top donors to the six Democrats include the Emily’s List women’s group and employees of Microsoft and Time Warner; top GOP donors include the conservative Club for Growth, various Wall Street banks and employees of Dow Chemical, according to CRP data.

Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, noted that contributions given during the time the supercommittee is meeting will not be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission until January — well after a final decision is made.

“There should be greater transparency about who these folks are meeting with and who they’re taking money from,” Allison said. “I don’t think the special interests should have special access.”

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