WASHINGTON -- The super committee created by the debt limit deal to plot $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts is set to begin hearings in the next two weeks. Members of the super committee are also set to continue fundraising -- despite calls from campaign finance watchdogs to stop seeking donations while negotiating the proposed cuts.
According to a release of fundraising invitations gathered by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group promoting transparency in government, super committee members have scheduled at least 14 fundraisers during the first two months that the committee will be holding hearings. The foundation rounded up no fundraising invitations involving four of the 12 members -- Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
"These events are basically giving access to these members for special interests," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation. "The average American can't afford to do that."
The list of those super committee members holding the most fundraising events highlights the congressional leadership's decision to stack the committee with lawmakers who are both adept at raising and required to raise a lot of money for their respective parties.
The situation is more acute for the Democrats. Their super committee members include Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the top fundraiser for the Senate Democrats; Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House; and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Xavier Becerra (Calif.), both rising House Democrats who must raise money to move up the leadership ranks.
Clyburn is leading the pack with nine fundraisers scheduled in the next few months. These include four for Clyburn's own campaign, three for his political action committee and one for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Clyburn will be hosting that last one. Four of Clyburn's fundraisers occur on consecutive days in the first week during which the super committee is required to hold a meeting.
Murray and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will both be hosting events to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the first two weeks during which the super committee will hold hearings. Contributors at these events are allowed to give as much as $30,800.
Becerra will be holding one fundraiser on Wednesday and another for his leadership PAC on Sept. 7. Van Hollen is hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) on Oct. 5.
The only known fundraisers to be held by the Republicans are a Sept. 7 event for super committee member Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.) and a fundraiser to be hosted by super committee member Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
The campaign finance watchdog Public Campaign is leading a coalition of groups calling on super committee members to cease all campaign fundraising activities during the four months the committee will operate.
"These 12 members already have $20.4 million in their campaign accounts," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund. "To continue to raise money at this pace looks like they're treating the super committee as a cash cow. It's a perfect way to destroy any trust that Americans have left for Congress."