An ethics watchdog on Wednesday urged members of the congressional "super committee" to stop their fundraising while they are on the panel.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders that the solicitation of campaign money by the 12 deficit-reduction panel members could "severely undermine the integrity of the committee's work." The members, including six Republicans and six Democrats, are charged with lowering the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion before Thanksgiving.
The panel includes Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), along with Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Sloan wrote that she is particularly concerned about Murray, who, as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairwoman, is tasked with fundraising for Senate Democrats.
"The establishment of the super committee allows special interests to focus with unprecedented precision on twelve policymakers with unprecedented authority to affect spending cuts and revenue in virtually all sectors of our economy," Sloan wrote in the letter. "As congressional leaders, you have the opportunity to instill confidence that any agreements the super committee reaches were made in the interests of the American people, not special interests."
Representatives for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to whom the letter was addressed, didn't have immediate comments. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), another addressee, said he hasn't seen the letter and the senator hasn't spoken on the concerns it raises.
Sloan isn't the only one worried about fundraising done by super committee members.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced legislation this month that would order the members to report campaign contributions of more than $1,000 while they are on the panel.
"We need to see full transparency and accountability because these committee members will be making huge decisions with a lot on the line," Vitter said in a statement.
An Am Law Daily study of congressional records for the 2010 and 2012 election cycles showed that lawyers and political action committees connected to about a third of the top Am Law 100 law firms have donated to super committee members' campaigns. Clyburn and Hensarling were the only members not to receive campaign money from at least one firm.
Another analysis by MapLight, a nonpartisan political money tracker, revealed that lawyers and law firms donated $31.5 million to the campaigns of panel members from Jan. 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2010. The U.S. legal community doled out more money to them than any other industry, according to MapLight.