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Iowa’s Dave Loebsack continues to push for transparency in the Super Committee

The public has a right to know about attempt by lobbyists or special interests to influence the decisions of members on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, known informally as the Super Committee. That’s the basic sentiment behind a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, an eastern Iowa Democrat.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/dave_loebsack_125.jpgDave Loebsack

“For me, the bottom line is, no matter where this bill goes, it is very important [to provide transparency] because the American people are so tired of the political gamesmanship and the food fights and all the rest in Congress — the back-room deals,” Loebsack told The Iowa Independent in an exclusive interview following his introduction of the Deficit Committee Transparency Act.

“There’s this feeling that things are getting done without there being enough sunlight being shed on the apparatus. The American people are just tired of the process. And, when they saw the debt negotiations going on behind the scenes with a relative few people actually being involved and not everyone being aware of what was being discussed, I decided it would be good to at least offer this legislation and try to get some other members on board.”

Loebsack introduced the bill alongside U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, and Jim Renacci, an Ohio Republican. It makes six requirements of Super Committee members and staff members that the three Congressmen believe would shed sunlight on their monumental task — struck as a part of earlier federal debt ceiling negotiations — to strip $1.5 trillion from the federal budget.

“With unprecedented power, such as has been given to these 12 Super Committee members, must come a call for unprecedented transparency,” explained Quigley. “With power over the fate of $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, the Committee members will face huge pressure from lobbyists and special interest groups, and the American people deserve to see exactly who is influencing the process.”

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/mike_quigley_125.jpgMike Quigley

Committee members have until Nov. 23 to either introduce a bipartisan plan for deficit reduction or do nothing, if they can’t find agreement. If a proposal is completed, it will then be sent to Congress, where it must face an up-or-down vote no later than Dec. 23.

Those dates, however, do not exactly coincide with federal campaign contribution disclosure law. Loebsack noted that under current law, Committee members will file a disclosure report, made public by Oct. 15, that will show contributions of $200 or more that were received between July 1 and Sept. 30.

“After that, however, we potentially won’t know of contributions of $200 or more received from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 until the end of January, or long after this process will be completed,” he said. “I know that’s a little bit in the weeds, but I think it is really important. The public needs to know what is being done, and there doesn’t need to be a lag in knowing where such money came from.”

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for greater transparency in government and politics, agrees.

“We applaud the introduction of [this proposal], and hope every member of Congress supports its swift passage to ensure the work of the Super Committee is conducted in an open and transparent manner,” said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “Since this Committee has been granted enormous power to determine the future of our economy, it’s critical all Americans have the ability to track online in real time the lobbying, activities and every dollar of campaign contributions to the members.”

The proposal would:

  • Require disclosure of meetings with lobbyists and special interests between committee members and staff 48 hours after the meeting on the Committee’s website.
  • Require the same disclosure on the website before any meetings occur within 48 hours of the Nov. 23 vote and the submission of legislative text on Dec. 2.
  • Require disclosure of lobbyist and special interest contributions to committee member campaigns or leadership PACs, and generally any contributions over $500 within 48 hours after the donation occurs on the Committee website.
  • Require creation of the aforementioned Committee website to make all disclosure information publicly available, in addition to information on the Committee activities and proceedings.
  • Require Committee hearings to be streamed live on the website and televised.
  • Require the Committee’s report and proposed legislative language to be published online 72 hours before the vote occurs.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/jim_renacci_125.jpgJim Renacci

“As the deficit reduction committee works to find $1.5 trillion in cuts to federal spending the American people should be able to see exactly how their elected representatives are achieving those savings. Transparency in the process will limit outside influence, allow for more input from a greater number of sources and lead to a better final product for the taxpayer,” said Renacci.

Loebsack acknowledges that even these more stringent transparency rules would not completely eliminate the potential for lobbyist and special interest influence.

“But at least, in the short term, it would shed light on their potential influence and their attempts to influence the process and the individuals on the Super Committee,” he said. “That’s a start.”

Since its introduction last week, the proposal has also drawn the support of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, and has been placed in the hands of the U.S. House Committee on Rules, which is led by California Republican David Dreier. No members of the Iowa delegation serve on this committee.

On Tuesday, the initial bill sponsors appealed directly to leadership of Super Committee, asking for the proposals contained within their bill to be proactively implemented by the Committee directly or for the leaders to support the bill’s ultimate passage. A copy of that letter is embedded below.

Deficit Committee Letter

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