Representatives Loebsack (D-IA), Quigley (D-IL) and Renacci (R-OH) introduced the Deficit Committee Transparency Act today, an important bill that would shine a light on efforts by outside interests to sway the twelve members of the Committee on Deficit Reduction, whether by lobbying them or donating to their campaigns. The bill would also require the committee’s report to be made public for 72 hours before it is voted on, and mandate the creation of a web site so all disclosure information and hearings will be publicly available online in a central location. Sunlight strongly supports this effort and applauds the bill’s cosponsors for recognizing the critical need to shine a light on avenues of access and influence to Super Committee members.
Unfortunately, as the Super Committee holds its first official meeting on Thursday, the chances of this bill being enacted before then are, to put it mildly, slim. But members of the Super Committee are in the process of establishing rules for the committee and this bill should be a blueprint to guide them.
The bill’s authors recognize that the unprecedented powers granted to Super Committee members should be paired with full transparency of their work. There already has been direct pressure from lobbyists and other interested parties asking the committee members to salvage some programs or cut others. Under this bill, the public, as well as the members of Congress whose clout has been diminished because they weren’t granted a spot on the Super Committee, should know, in real time, who is asking for what.
The transparency provisions in the bill are not unprecedented and members of Congress have no legitimate reason to resist them. For example, the Obama administration required meetings to be disclosed when special interests lobbied the executive branch on the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Likewise, real time disclosure of campaign contributions is also standard. Under current law, if a contribution is given within 20 days of an election, it must be reported within 48 hours. Given the short life of the Super Committee, whose work must be wrapped up before the end of the year, failure to require reporting of contributions in 48 hours means campaign contributions to Super Committee members will be hidden until after the committee’s work is complete.
If these proposals are enacted, they will help to begin to rebuild the public’s trust in the budget process. If time constraints or other pressures prevent this common sense bill from becoming law, we would hope the bill’s provisions are contained in committee rules. On the other hand, if transparency measures are ignored and the work of the Super Committee is hidden behind a veil of secrecy, it will reinforce the public’s mistrust of the process and will delegitimize the committee’s work.