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Super Committee: Transparency Resources and Public Response

Currently, the Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction (or “Super Committee”) is meeting to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts. The Sunlight Foundation believes the stakes are too high for such a powerful committee to operate out of the reach of public oversight.

Sunlight, along with other organizations, is driving a national conversation on this issue. On this page you can read further about the response from Congress, how you can get involved and recent media coverage.

The Issue

Decision-making about our country's fiscal future must be put back into the public sphere. Recently, a number of important decisions faced by the nation were addressed (and decided) behind closed doors, such as the extension of Bush-era tax cuts and the government shutdown debate. It is time to reverse this secrecy.

Five things the Super Committee should post on its website:

  1. Live webcasts of all official meetings and hearings
  2. The Committee's report should be posted for 72 hours before a final committee vote
  3. Disclosure of every meeting held with lobbyists and other powerful interests
  4. Disclosure of campaign contributions as they are received (on their campaign websites)
  5. Financial disclosures of Committee members and staffers

Over the course of the debt ceiling debate, Sunlight thoroughly followed the negotiations and subsequent development of the Super Committee on our blog.

On August 3, Sunlight issued a letter to congressional leadership urging them to adopt recommendations that would ensure the Super Committee operates in a fully open and transparency manner.

The Super Committee is in a prime position to be under the influence of lobbyists and wealthy special interests. The Sunlight Reporting Group assembled influence profiles of each lawmaker and provided detailed analyses of the budgetary interests of their biggest donors and which lobbyists have the most access to the committee. Our reporters use Sunlight tools such as Party Time to track the fundraisers of Super Committee members (and the lobbyists who host them) and TransparencyData.com, which serves as a one-stop-data-shop for information on lobbying money and campaign contributions.

You can read all of our Super Committee investigations on the Sunlight Reporting Group Blog.

Update On September 8, the Super Committee adopted rules that permitted public proceedings of its members, unless members voted otherwise. Throughout September and October, however, the group only had three public hearings choosing instead for nearly daily closed-door sessions.

In Congress

Sunlight's leadership has helped push Members of Congress to demand openness: Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Jim Renacci (R-OH) issued a bipartisan letter to leadership, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi made a public statement explaining that the legitimacy of the process itself depends on openness. Speaker John Boehner has also expressed support for an open and accountable process.

Other lawmakers drafted legislation supporting transparency around the Super Committee. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a bill to require all contributions over $1,000 to be disclosed in as close to real-time for all joint committee members. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) also introduced a bill (Senate, House) that would require the committee to hold its meetings publicly, instead of behind closed doors.

Read further about congressional response and Super Committee transparency on our Transparency Hub wiki page.

Update On September 6, Reps. David Lobesack (D-IA), Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Jim Renacci (R-OH) introduced the Deficit Committee Transparency Act which provides greater transparency, including disclosure of meetings with lobbyists and special interests between committee members and staff 48 hours after the meeting, for the Super Committee.

Update House Democrats were the only ones to publicly post online their recommendations to the Super Committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 16 Democratic ranking members of House committees shared their deficit reduction plans on the Democratic Leader website in advance of the October 14 deadline.

In the News

Sunlight’s expertise on congressional transparency and accountability, as well as our money and politics resources, helped propel our Super Committee recommendations across the media landscape. In addition to national appearances on CNN, C-SPAN and in the Washington Post, numerous local newspapers’ editorial boards have heeded our call for Super Committee transparency.

C-SPAN - John Wonderlich on Washington Journal

Policy Director John Wonderlich discusses Super Committee transparency and answers viewers’ calls on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

CNN - BIll Allison - Super Committee Conflicts of Interest

Editorial Director Bill Allison talks to CNN’s Lisa Sylvester about special interests’ influence on Super Committee members.

Marketplace – Bill Allison – Super-lobbying at super committee

Editorial Director Bill Allison talks to Marketplace’s David Gura about lobbyist ties to the 12 lawmakers on the panel.

Grassroots Campaign

The “Open Super Congress” campaign is engaging citizens across the U.S. in demanding accountability and transparency in the Super Committee. Grassroots advocates are reaching out to their Members of Congress through phone calls and emails, social media alerts and District Office visits.

They are sharing the message that’s pretty clear something is broken in our democracy. While the committee members are certainly entitled to some private deliberation, this process needs be open and transparent.

Update Join us on Monday, October 31 for a "Haunt the House (and Senate)" day of action as we demand greater Super Committee transparency. We’ll be visiting the district offices of Super Committee members all around the country and making our concerns known. Visit meetup.com/transparency to join your local Haunt.

Visit the Open Super Congress campaign

Other Voices

A broad coalition of groups have launched a number of efforts to encourage the Super Committee to be open.

Jim Harper, CATO

This is how massed power in Washington fully manifests itself: major decisions about the direction of the country that people cannot even know about until the decisions are finalized. I’m not havin’ it.

Project on Government Oversight

Right now, the creation of the committee doesn’t come with many requirements for transparency. ... The panel should aim for transparency so that the public can trust that its decisions are based on sound thinking and not lobbying dollars.

OMB Watch

We need to inject openness and mechanisms for the public's voice into this important national debate. The stakes are high. Special interest lobbyists are already gearing up to defend their pet projects. They'd rather operate in the dark – and usually, Congress would, too. We have to make it clear that is not how democracy operates.

The Brennan Center for Justice

By adhering to procedures that promote robust transparency, Committee members can boost public confidence that all the Committee’s decisions are made in the public’s best interest, and that all its decisions favor the broader good over narrow interests.