Super Committee Members' Campaign Contributors Are Major Lobbying Groups

on November 14 2011 4:00 PM
Congress' Super Committee
The super committee's deadline is approaching, and many doubt a deal can be ironed out in time. REUTERS

Members of Congress' super committee responsible for slicing $1.2 trillion from the deficit have faced an intense lobbying push since being appointed to the 12-member panel, but they all have long histories of accepting money from the industries and special interest groups clamoring for a seat at the table.

Political action committees belonging to lawmakers on the super committee reported a surge in third-quarter fundraising, and PACs representing corporate heavyweights like Lockheed Martin and Pfizer inundated members of the deficit panel with more than $83,000 during August alone. A new analysis by the nonprofit money tracker MapLight reaches back further, detailing a decade of campaign contributions.

Lawyers and law firms were by far the largest benefactors by industry, pouring nearly $32 million into election efforts. Health professionals and the securities and investment sector rounded out the top three. The list of top contributors by organization is populated with financial titans like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, as well as groups that hew to partisan interests -- the conservative Club for Growth gave more than any organization, while the pro-choice group EMILY's List and the University of California, a major contributor to Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., 2004 presidential campaign, also registered in the top 10.

Not surprisingly, there's a ton of money going to just a dozen lawmakers, said Jeffrey ErnstFriedman, research director for MapLight. It's not striking who these groups are -- it's the same groups we see showing up all the time. It's the same large groups that are contributing, who have the means to contribute across the board for years on end to 500 some lawmakers.

Washington Staple: Lobbyist Pressure

The super committee has struggled amidst the din of lobbyists to find a compromise palatable to both Democrats and Republicans, grappling in particular with the issue of tax revenue. While the committee members' campaign contribution records show some variation among traditionally partisan backers -- Koch Industries or public sector unions, for instance -- industries like pharmaceuticals, insurance firms and securities and finance recur across party and ideology.

Large groups like financial services tend to give to the winners, so on a long enough time frame it tends to even out, ErnstFriedman said. They're separate from ideology. They're just looking for a return on their investment, regardless of who's in power.

The super committee members' more recent interactions with potential benefactors are murkier. Lawmakers not sitting on the committee introduced bills that would have required members of the supercommittee to disclose campaign contributions or meetings with lobbyists within a 48-hour window, an effort backed by New York Law School's Brennan Center for Justice.

The super committee has been granted extraordinary powers that will shape the fiscal future of the country for years to come and given the high stakes of its work it's absolutely vital the public know of any interest groups seeking to curry special favor, said Adam Skaggs, an attorney with the Brennan Center. It's useful to know to what extent any of the members have longstanding ties to any industries or lobbies, but it's equally if not more important to look at contacts with lobbyists they've had over the last two months or contributions they've taken while the negotiations are ongoing.

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