Transparency rules proposed for budget-cutting 'super committee'

Members of the House and Senate appointed to the “super committee” under the new debt-reduction law would have to disclose their campaign contributions every 48 hours while serving there under legislation introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, known as the super committee, was created as part of the law that raised the nation’s debt ceiling and created a framework for reduced federal spending.

Under Vitter’s proposal, the 12 super committee members would have to disclose campaign receipts of $1,000 or more from their own campaign finance committee, and from any leadership political action committees they head, every 48 hours from the time of their appointment to the committee’s authority expires on Jan. 21, 2012. The super committee members have not been appointed.


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“We’re talking trillions in cuts, and there are already threats to increase taxes on many job creators,” Vitter said Aug. 2.  “We need to see full transparency and accountability because these committee members will be making huge decisions with a lot on the line.”

But disclosing amounts of more than $1,000 may not be sufficient, according to the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group.

“We are generally supportive. but we would hope the threshold for disclosure would be at a lower level,” said Gabriela Schneider, communications director for the foundation. She declined to specify the exact preferred threshold amount.

Under Federal Elections Commission rules, individual donors have to disclose contributions of $200 or more in an election cycle. Also under federal rules, candidates generally disclose their fundraising every 48 hours only during the 12 days before a primary election and 12 days before a general election, in addition to quarterly and monthly reports.

Advocacy groups have been urging Congress to ensure that the committee’s actions are transparent, in anticipation of a huge lobbying push by defense contractors, medical providers, federal employee unions and other interests likely to affected by substantial reductions.

To promote open government, John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, made five recommendations for super committee transparency, according to a blog entry he wrote on Aug. 3. They include live webcasts of all official meetings and hearings, committee reports to be posted for 72 hours before a vote, disclosure of every meeting with lobbyists and "powerful interests," disclosure of campaign contributions as they are received and financial disclosures of committee members and staffers.

Two additional organizations, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, and openthegovernment.org, have endorsed those recommendations.

"Sunlight is ramping up our effort to get the new 'Super Congress' committee to be as transparent as they are powerful," Wonderlich wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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