Editorial: Transparency by deficit panel would build trust
In 10 short weeks, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will have made far-reaching choices that reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The 12-member panel’s decisions will affect many sectors of the economy and a variety of government services. Lobbyists in self-protection mode are already clamoring to gain the ear of appointees.
The so-called supercommittee’s deadline will come so quickly that quarterly reports on political fundraising won’t be able to keep up. That’s why public interest groups are calling for panelists to abide by extraordinary transparency and disclosure measures. A coalition of campaign watchdogs sent a letter to Congress in August asking that the committee’s dozen appointees comply with two requests until the Nov. 23 deadline. The letter, at publicampaign.org, urges them to:
“1) Cease all political fundraising for themselves, their party, or for other candidates.
2) Provide full transparency on any meetings with outside groups or individuals regarding the committee’s work, including meetings with lobbyists, corporate CEOs, or donors.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and her committee co-chair, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, have declined to go that far.
“Working with her Republican co-chairman, Sen. Murray has worked to lay out rules for the committee that promote transparency through public hearings and debate on the major issues facing the committee,” said Murray spokesman Matt McAlvanah.
However, there are no special rules on transparency and disclosure. Appointees have not been instructed to cease fundraising. Given the extraordinary mandate of this bipartisan group, it ought to open up more, and cease political party activities.
Murray is in a precarious position because she also heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is the party’s chief fundraising arm. She should consider taking a leave of absence from the DSCC. Unfortunately, leaders of both parties appointed supercommittee members who are also super fundraisers. More than 100 lobbyists once worked for the 12 appointees and they represent some of the nation’s most powerful clients, according to the Washington Post.
The panel has taken some positive steps. It’s established a website – deficitreduction.senate.gov – where the panel’s rules and processes are spelled out. Also, any documents and amendments pertaining to its work are to be posted in a timely manner.
But members ought to do more. On Monday, public campaign advocates got excited when U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., reportedly decided to cease fundraising until the panel’s work was done. Since then, his office has tamped down the ramifications, noting that he didn’t have any personal fundraisers scheduled anyway. He is scheduled to attend a DSCC fundraiser.
Public confidence in Congress is at a low ebb, and justifiably so. This special committee can help build trust by taking party politics out of the equation and shining a bright light on its activities.