Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The country’s long-term fiscal health rests in the hands of 12 members of Congress serving on the super committee charged with reducing the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is one of the 12.
Super committee members — “Supers” — like Mr. Toomey, wield a tremendous amount of power. But with great power comes great responsibility, and now the Supers have a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability as the committee’s work advances. Mr. Toomey has the chance to be a Super hero by agreeing to rules that will ensure the super committee’s work is done in the light of day and without the taint of secret money and back room deals.
Unfortunately, that is a very real danger. Massive lobbying efforts are already under way. According to Politico, one lobbyist said he is “preparing by writing 12 really large checks.” On the very same day the last Supers were appointed, a lobbyist group sent an invitation to a $1,500 per person fundraiser, trumpeting its event as the first opportunity for lobbyists to curry favor with a member of the committee.
If a Super takes a check from a defense industry lobbyist one day, then votes in the committee to protect the defense industry’s interest the next, the American public has the right to know. With these kinds of special interests descending on the committee, the Supers must adopt and follow strong transparency rules to ensure legitimacy in the process.
Already, legislation has been introduced to ensure that contributions to committee members are disclosed in real time. This is a necessary first step, but not sufficient. In order to ensure the legitimacy of this process, Mr. Toomey must commit to three key measures.
First, Mr. Toomey should disclose all contributions received by his campaign or any related group. As Republican Sen. David Vitter put it, “given the important work this committee will be doing over the next four months, it’s just plain good government for the public to know what special interests are trying to influence the committee.”
Second, Mr. Toomey should disclose any involvement in soliciting funds from groups that seek to influence politics but refuse to disclose their donors, like so-called Super PACS and 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations. Any involvement by members of the Supers in soliciting donations to these secretive groups opens the door to political favoritism. Requiring disclosure will deter such conduct, and promote accountability.
Third, Mr. Toomey should disclose all contacts that he or his staff has with those seeking to influence committee recommendations — whether they are campaign contributors, lobbyists, political groups or representatives from business corporations, nonprofits and unions.
These reports should include the names of those who meet with Mr. Toomey or his staff, the organizations they represent and the topics they discussed. This will allow the public to monitor which interests are involved in the process and determine if the final plan bears their fingerprints.
The Supers have been tasked with overcoming government gridlock and riding to the rescue of our long-term financial future. Ultimately the committee’s co-chairs will set the rules governing the committee’s procedures, but Mr. Toomey can, and should, voluntarily adopt stronger transparency measures and disclose all of his contributions, solicitations and contacts.
The Supers possess tremendous power. They must meet the highest standards if we are to meet our fiscal future with confidence in the path they have chosen.