In his first extensive interview about his membership on the Super Committee—the super powerful deficit reduction committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts to the federal budget—Senator John Kerry said he will give up fundraising while the Super Committee is doing its work. He will also limit his meetings with lobbyists, saying:
I’m not meeting with a lot of lobbyists; I’m meeting with people I choose to meet with, who can inform me, assist in the process of crunching numbers and dealing with consequences, and so forth.
Full disclosure: I worked for Senator Kerry a decade ago, making me one of those hundred or so registered lobbyists with ties to Super Committee members. While the Senator is on the right track, he should ensure that any campaign contributions or special interest meetings that might appear to influence his work on the Super Committee are exposed to sunlight in real time.
By instituting a moratorium on fundraisers, Senator Kerry is attempting to insulate himself from being lobbied by people while they are handing over bundles of checks. But it won’t necessarily stop checks from flowing into his campaign coffers while the Super Committee is at work. And, because of the timing of the campaign finance disclosure calendar, contributions to Super Committee members will be hidden until after the committee wraps up. Just as members of Congress must disclose within 48 hours contributions they receive within 20 days of an election, Super Committee members should disclose campaign contributions within 48 hours of receipt. Only with real time disclosure will the public know, before the barn door is closed and the Super Committee makes its recommendations, who might be trying to gain access or curry favor with any of the its members.
Senator Kerry’s statement not to meet with “a lot of lobbyists” leaves room for him and his staff to meet with some, not to mention the many non-lobbyist lobbyists—defense contractors, heads of hospitals and others—who aren’t registered to lobby but who have a huge interest in the Super Committee’s recommendations.
This is not to suggest that Kerry has any intention of meeting with such powerful stakeholders. His statement indicates that he is more interested in meeting with numbers people and actuarial types who can hammer out with him the impact of any proposed cut—which sounds very much like the John Kerry I worked for those many years ago. But if the Senator wants to demonstrate his commitment to making his deficit cutting decisions free from powerful outside influences, he has a simple tool: He should disclose all of the meetings he and his staff have with outsiders about the Super Committee within 48 hours.
Sunlight strongly supports HR 2860, the Deficit Committee Transparency Act, a bill that would impose transparency requirements, like real time disclosure of meetings and campaign contributions, on all Super Committee members. Since time is short and the wheels of Congress turn slowly, we also urge all 12 Super Committee members not to wait for transparency legislation to pass, and instead voluntarily disclose, in real time, meetings they have with special interests and campaign contributions they receive.