Special interests gave millions to budget panel

By Jack Gillum

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 11 2011 3:10 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The 12 lawmakers appointed to a new congressional supercommittee charged with tackling the nation's fiscal problems have received millions in contributions from special interests with a direct stake in potential cuts to federal programs, an Associated Press review of federal campaign data has found.

The newly appointed members — six Democrats and six Republicans — have received more than $3 million total during the past five years in donations from political committees with ties to defense contractors, health care providers and labor unions. That money went to their re-election campaigns, according to AP's review.

Supporters say the lawmakers were picked for their integrity and experience with complicated budget matters. But their appointments already have prompted early concerns from campaign-finance watchdog groups, which urged the lawmakers to stop fundraising and resign from leadership positions in political groups.

The congressional committee, created as part of the debt limit and deficit reduction agreement enacted last week, is charged with cutting more than $1 trillion from the budget during the coming decade. If the committee doesn't decide on cuts by late November — or if Congress votes down the committee's recommendations — spending triggers would automatically cut billions of dollars from politically delicate areas like Medicare and the Pentagon.

The lawmakers represent a large swath of political ideology and geography, but they have some things in common: They received more than $1 million overall in contributions from the health care industry and at least $700,000 from defense companies, the AP found. Those two industries, especially, are sensitive to the outcome of the committee's negotiations because the automatic spending cuts could affect them most directly.

The committee's co-chairs — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas — each received support from lobbyists and political committees, including those with ties to defense contractors and health care lobbyists. Hensarling's re-election committee, for instance, received about $11,000 from Lockheed Martin and $8,500 from Northrop Grumman.

Companies like Lockheed rely heavily on government contracts. More than 80 percent of Lockheed's net sales during the first six months of 2011 came from the U.S. government, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records.

The other panel members are Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.; Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; and Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.; Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and Michigan Republicans Dave Camp and Fred Upton.

The AP's analysis shows the extent to which special interests have directly supported the 12 members during their tenures in Congress, including support from agriculture businesses ($600,000) and labor unions ($580,000).

The extent of potential conflicts could be even greater than the AP's analysis shows. The AP measured contributions from industry PACs to lawmakers' election committees. But it didn't capture amounts from independent expenditures, such as donations, from defense executives and their families or money given to leadership political committees.

Even still, influence can extend beyond direct campaign contributions. Senate records show that Murray, also the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was named in so-called honoree payments of more than $1 million from lobbyists since 2008. Such honoree contributions are sent to groups associated with members of Congress or for events held in their honor.

Representatives from the co-chairs' offices did not immediately respond to requests from the AP seeking comment Thursday.

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