WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Clyburn is the most aggressive fundraiser on the special panel set up by Congress to slash the federal deficit, defying calls by government-watchdog groups to stop raising money while weighing huge spending cuts that will impact every economic sector.
Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, has held or planned 12 fundraisers between mid-August, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed him to the “super committee,” and Thanksgiving, its deadline for recommending $1.2 trillion in budget reductions over the next decade.
None of the other 11 panel members – who with Clyburn include six Republicans and six Democrats, from the Senate and the House – has hosted or scheduled more than four fundraisers in the same period, according the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington group that tracks such events.
Clyburn, who’s received almost $1.6 million this year through his campaign and leadership PACs, defended his fund-raising activity.
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“All of these fundraisers are held within the spirit and the letter of the law,” Clyburn told McClatchy. “I remain firm in my commitment to serve those without a voice as a member of this committee.”
Clyburn, a 10th-term lawmaker from Columbia, also said his level of contributions hasn’t risen since his appointment to the super committee. The most recent campaign-finance reports, for the quarter ending Sept. 30, don’t cover enough time to verify that claim.
Among the other 11 panel members, Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, and Democratic Reps. Xavier Becera of California and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, have each held or planned four fundraisers. The other 11 have held or scheduled 27 receptions in all, compared with Clyburn’s dozen events.
Just a few hours before the panel held its first public session in a month Wednesday, Clyburn hosted a Capitol Hill breakfast to garner money for Bridge, the leadership political-action committee he uses mainly to collect funds to help elect fellow Democrats in Congress.
“Mr. Clyburn and his colleagues in both parties are leveraging their super-committee service to generate campaign contributions from interests with a stake in the committee’s deliberations,” said Bob Edgar, head of Common Cause, a government-oversight organization based in Washington.
Edgar was among the representatives of 25 advocacy groups who wrote an August letter asking the panel members to abstain from fundraising while engaged in their congressionally mandated work.
The groups also asked the lawmakers on the committee to disclose all “meetings with lobbyists, corporate CEOS or donors.”
That request has also been ignored.
The American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, the No. 4 career donor to Clyburn’s campaign and leadership PACs, is focusing its significant lobbying might on the panel.
“We’re putting an enormous amount of emphasis on lobbying the members of that committee,” said Chuck Loveless, AFSCME’s legislative affairs director.
“It’s no accident that it’s called the super committee,” Loveless said. “It has jurisdiction over a wide canopy of government programs and government services. So it’s of major concern to us. To the extent the super committee produces some kind of deficit-reduction plan, it is going to have enormous ramifications not only for the 1.6 million members of AFSCME, but for everyone in this country.”
AFSCME has given Clyburn $80,000 in campaign contributions since 1991, ranking it behind only United Parcel Service, the American Association for Justice (formerly the Trial Lawyers Association) and AT&T Inc. as his top career backers.
Loveless said his union is a major donor to Clyburn because of his strong voting record on issues of importance to its members, not because of his place on the super committee.
“Our relationship with Congressman Clyburn goes back for the entire time he’s been in Congress,” Loveless said. “He is a true friend of ours and of working men and women across this country. This is not some new relationship that we have developed with him.”
Loveless said he hasn’t met with Clyburn since he joined the deficit panel, but said the union’s lobbyists have been talking with aides to Clyburn and other committee members.
Clyburn said his conversations with South Carolinians far outweigh any exchanges he and his aides have with lobbyists or others trying to influence the panel’s work at fundraisers or receptions.
“Throughout this committee process, I have received hundreds of calls from constituents who have asked me to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which they depend on for their survival,” Clyburn said.
“I have been inundated with calls to ensure that funding for cancer research is preserved,” he said. “I have received countless pleas to safeguard education funding and Pell grants. These constituents do not participate in my fundraisers, and their concerns are in the forefront of my mind during these deliberations.”
Clyburn did not comment on reports that he is balking at a draft plan by some other Democrats on the deficit panel to reduce the budget deficit by up to $3 trillion – much more than required by an August 2 law enacted by Congress – because of cuts to Medicare it would impose.
The law, which raised the federal debt ceiling, requires the special committee to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by Thanksgiving, and for Congress to approve them.
If the panel fails to reach agreement in time, across-the-board cuts will be automatically enacted for most domestic discretionary spending, to be split equally between defense and non-military programs.
Michael Beckel, an analyst with the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, said Clyburn and other debt panel members must perform a careful balancing act as they raise campaign funds and search for unprecedented spending cuts with huge impact.
“As one of the top Democrats in the House, Representative Clyburn is tasked with raising money not only for his own campaign, but also to help fellow Democrats,” Beckel said. “At the same time, Representative Clyburn’s constituents – and the American people – are counting on him to look out for them, not just his special-interest donors.”
Bill Allison, an analyst with the Sunlight Foundation, said the super committee members are under enormous pressure from lobbyists, some of whom are their most generous donors.
“Every special interest in Washington has a stake in this fight whether it’s health care, finance or defense contracting,” he said. “Whatever industry you represent, the committee’s work will affect you. So it’s a magnet for all the deep-pocket interests. And one of the ways special interests influence lawmakers is by attending fundraisers for them and writing checks.”