Unresolved problems persist as the super committee — a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers charged with cutting a minimum of $1.2 trillion from the federal budget before Thanksgiving — begins its work. Unfortunately, the committee has made minimal efforts to provide transparency concerning the dollars meant to influence their decisions. On Sunday, for example, Sen. Max Baucus, (D-MT), a member of the super committee, will attend a $5,000 a plate dinner ($10,000 for hosts) at Oceana Restaurant in Midtown Manhattan to raise funds for a PAC called Montana Senate Victory 2012. Even in the midst of the committee’s deliberations, the public has no information about the special interests spending thousands for Senator Baucus’ attention.
Voices on the left and the right have called for super committee members to promptly disclose campaign donations they receive. Sen. David Vitter, (R-LA), last month introduced legislation that would require super committee members to disclose donations of more than $1,000 within 48-hours of receiving them, citing the values of openness, transparency, and “plain good government.” Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Mike Quigley (D-IL) and James Ranacci (R-OH) have introduced even tougher super committee disclosure legislation, which would require members to disclose donations in excess of $500 within 48-hours and keep a public log of their meetings with lobbyists. Rep. Loebsack said such disclosure was necessary because “the only people members of this committee should be listening to are the American people.”
But, as Sen. Baucus’s presence at the Montana Senate Victory 2012 event demonstrates, industry groups have many avenues through which to wield influence over super committee members. Closed-door, high-priced, off-the-record events such as the Oceana event give powerful interests access to super committee members that average Americans — the people with the most at stake in the committee’s deliberations — simply do not have. That’s why the Brennan Center has repeatedly called for super committee members to disclose their involvement in soliciting funds for third-party groups, including PACs like Montana Senate Victory 2012, but also the less transparent members of the post-Citizens United milieu — SuperPACs, 527s, and 501(c)(4)s and (c)(6)s.
PACs like Montana Senate Victory 2012 file quarterly fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission. But PACs closed their books on the summer quarter on September 30th, meaning that the public will have no idea what groups recently had Senator Baucus’s ear until January 31, 2012 — long after the super committee has closed up shop and Congress has rendered a final verdict on which programs and what people will shoulder the brunt of fiscal contraction. That’s not a fair way to conduct a national debate of this magnitude.