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Debt panel rich with conflicts

‘Supercommittee’ members still busy raising funds

WASHINGTON – Hours after convening the first working meeting of Congress’ “supercommittee” Tuesday, committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state had another engagement: She hosted a $1,000-per-ticket fundraiser at the fall reception of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, raising money for her party’s 2012 Senate candidates.

Two other Republican members of the debt-reduction panel held fundraisers the same night: Sen. Rob Portman hosted a reception for fellow Ohioan Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona hosted one for Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, his Mississippi counterpart.

Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina had the busiest week of any supercommittee member, with five fundraisers scheduled over four days.

Despite growing calls for the 12 committee members to stop raising money until they conclude their task of cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget, most are adhering to the time-honored tradition of mixing their politics with plenty of cash.

At least nine of them – five Democrats and four Republicans – have held or scheduled 21 fundraisers since getting named to the committee last month, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based organization that tracks the influence of money in politics.

Nick Nyhart, the president and chief executive officer of Public Campaign, a national nonprofit group that focuses on special-interest money in politics, said the committee members could send a “clear signal” that their recommendations would be made without the undue influence of big-money interests by suspending all fundraising for the next two months. The supercommittee, known officially as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, has until Nov. 23 to make its recommendations.

Nyhart said the 94 senators and 429 members of the House of Representatives who weren’t on the committee could pick up any fundraising slack.

“For most Americans, it is very distressing,” he said. “I worry that Americans have given up on the ability of government to make decisions in the interests of the public, and not in the interests of the big-lobby crowd and the big-money crowd.”

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, another supercommittee member, won praise from government watchdogs last week when he said he’d suspend fundraising and limit contacts with lobbyists while serving.

Later, however, Kerry’s office sought to downplay his remarks, saying that he’d freeze only fundraising for his re-election. On Monday, he is scheduled to headline a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee breakfast.

The only members of the committee who don’t have any fundraisers scheduled are Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana and Republican Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan.

Nyhart said Murray faced the biggest conflict of interest as she headed up her party’s fundraising efforts for 2012 Senate candidates.

Some fear that Murray’s close ties to firms such as Boeing and Microsoft, which rank as two of her top five career donors, could influence her.

Boeing, which received 43 percent of its revenues from the federal government last year, joined the Aerospace Industries Association at a news conference Wednesday to urge the supercommittee not to cut aerospace or defense spending. A day earlier, the group gave Murray its Wings of Liberty Award, citing her long advocacy for aerospace programs.

Murray has said little, but she has made it clear that she has no plans to stop fundraising, saying this month: “I’m a multi-tasker. I’m doing great.”


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